Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Not the ‘sitcom’ the Dowlings expected

Not the sitcom the Dowlings expected
Megan Smith

When Suzanne and Rick Dowling imagined their life with kids, they pictured sitcoms. Everybody Loves Raymond, the Cosby Show, Happy Days – worlds where dinner was always cooked, the house was always clean, any problems could be solved in 30 minutes or less and the children were picture perfect.

But when their “sitcom-perfect child” Sam was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, the Dowlings realized life wouldn’t be like television.

Now, the Dowlings, faculty-in-residence at the University of Alabama, often joke about how their life didn’t exactly meet their “Brady Bunch” expectations.

“Our life isn’t the picture perfect sitcom,” Suzanne Dowling said. “It’s so much better.”

The Dowlings presented their story Wednesday night in a program titled “Something About Sam: Autism Told Through the World of Sitcoms.”

“This is our experience. We’ve dealt with it with humor,” Rick Dowling said after the program, acknowledging that other families deal with autism in different ways.

After Sam graduated from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge High School, the Dowlings made the decision to move on campus three years ago.

“It played a big part in raising Sam,” Rick said.

Rick and Suzanne wanted Sam to have a “typical college experience,” so the family moved into Riverside West to get a taste of the dorm life.

“You have the bad dream and the good dream,” Rick Dowling said. “You don’t even want to think about the bad dream. But the good dream we have for Sam is the same as parents not dealing with autism – we want him to be happy, healthy, safe. We hope one day he can be independent, have a job and be happy.”

In addition to living the dorm life, Sam attends Crossing Points, a program out of the Special Education Department in UA’s College of Education. Sam walks to class every morning alongside other Riverside residents

“He got mad at me the other day when I told him to have a good day at school,” Rick Dowling said. “He told me only high school kids call it school, he was going to class.”

Sam graduates in May, bringing him one step closer to the “good dream.” His parents hope he can find a job somewhere on campus, and they are in the process of renewing their faculty-in-residence positions for another three-year term.

Though the Dowlings have succeeded at helping their son have as normal an experience as possible, Suzanne admits that their journey wasn’t without difficulty along the way.

“I remember once, soon after the diagnosis, I was in a K-Mart with Sam. We were in the toy aisle trying to pick out a toy. Another mother and son were there, and they were just carrying on a conversation about what the boy wanted. I just started to cry,” she said, tearing up as she recalled the memory. “I knew that however things turned out, Sam would never be like that. His autism is for life. He isn’t going to wake up changed one day.”

Their campus life has been a success, but as Sam nears graduation, he and his parents are looking toward the next episode of their lives.

“All sitcoms have a finale – things are pretty and wrapped up. Our little sitcom is nowhere near over,” Suzanna Dowling said. “Sam has autism, and that’s not going to change. But the dream that we have for Sam as parents is still the same.”







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