Overstimulation, distress, panic – feelings that feed off one another, creating a continuous chain of negative emotions. These feelings can be overwhelming to anyone, but particularly to those who have a developmental disability such as autism. When the environment becomes overstimulated or routines are changed, individuals with autism may experience a sensory meltdown. A sensory meltdown is where an individual could experience a flight, fight or freeze response in the face of being overstimulated. Being stuck at this moment seems everlasting, the overstimulation just continues without an end in sight, and it feels lonely.

This appears to be what Kenlee Shaw experienced during lunch in the cafeteria at Passmore Elementary School in Alvin, Texas. Shaw, a fourth-grade student, appeared to be overwhelmed by the noise in the cafeteria and moved to lay on the stage under her blanket. Understanding what was occurring and not wanting Shaw to be alone, Esther McCool, a custodian of the school, went to lay down with her on the stage. 

Shaw’s mother, Hollie Bellew-Shaw, who works at the school as a special education paraprofessional, immediately took this picture of Shaw and McCool. The picture was shared to the Alvin Independent School District’s Facebook page with the caption:

“Sometimes you just need to take a break! When Kenlee, a Passmore Elementary 4th grader, was having a rough day, Mrs. Esther, a custodian at the school, got on the floor with her and just held her. Kenlee’s mother, Hollie Bellew-Shaw, posted this picture on social media to show the compassion and love Alvin ISD employees show to their students. “Kenlee adores Mrs. Esther,” Bellew-Shaw shared. “She always greets my daughter with kind words and a hug which is so special to her.” This goes to show you that a kind word, a hug, and a little compassion are all it takes to make a huge difference in a child’s life.”

McCool has been praised for stepping in to comfort young Shaw. Rachel Moore, a communications coordinator, praised McCool, telling ABC News, “She saw that the child was having a bad day and that the noise was bothering her so she just laid down with her.” McCool has been commended across the internet for her simple act of kindness. She has been called “an angel”, the “sweetest individual in the world” and was thanked for “being you” by many parents from the school and district. 

McCool is a prime example of how a little kindness and compassion can make a tremendous difference to any person that is going through a difficult situation. McCool is an inspiration to everyone, and her actions serve as a reminder to take time from your day to offer comfort and kindness to those who need it; you never know how much it can help and mean to those in need.

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