Tuscaloosan celebrates birthday by donating autism support kits

Carter Kits Web

Photo courtesy Holly

By WVUA 23 News Reporter A’Leeyah Ponder

Most people get gifts on their birthday, but one Tuscaloosa man decided he’d spend his latest milestone giving back to first responders and the autism community instead.

Sam Dowling, who has autism spectrum disorder, decided he’d use his 30th birthday as a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Alabama.

“Sam turned 30 this summer and in lieu of gifts wanted to do something for first responders,” said Autism Society of Alabama Executive Director Melanie Jomes. “The Autism Society provides Carter Kits that assist first responders in stressful situations and can help de-escalate a person with autism.”

Carter Kits are sensory bags packed with sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones to reduce stress from flashing lights and sirens, a disclaimer note with how first responders can support those on the scene, fidget toys and a social story for nonverbal individuals. 

Sam raised enough funds during his birthday bash to donate 35 kits spread out among the Tuscaloosa Police Department, Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue and Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. 

Sam has always loved the military and emergency personnel, said Sam’s mother Suzanne Dowling.

“It was just a good match of giving back to the autism community but also helping first responders,” she said.  

First responders are required to complete training on how to best work with people with autism in the case of an emergency. Carter Kits offer an additional tool emergency personnel can use when they’re on a scene.

“Its a great benefit to us because the items in these kits are going to help us with people with autism on a scene,” said Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue Batallion Chief Tony Klostermann. “When we get called to a scene it’s loud and chaotic, and these kits provide us the means to calm people down and make them feel more comfortable.”

Thanks to Sam’s donation, Tuscaloosa’s emergency personnel now have the most Carter Kits in the state. 

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