Good Causes

Julia turns heartbreak into hope via an autism ‘lifeline’

Julia McKeever knew her “bright, intelligent” son Luke faced challenges as he’d been diagnosed with autism when he was 12. But the mum from Portadown in Northern Ireland had no idea just how desperate his struggle had become.

“We didn’t see Luke’s death coming,” says Julia, 49, recalling the months before her son took his own life in February 2021. “There were no warning signs. When we discovered Luke had died by suicide, I went into shock. I still haven’t fully accepted that my son isn’t here.”

According to the Autistica charity, autistic people without a learning disability have a nine times higher than average premature mortality rate, with suicide a principal cause.

In the wake of Luke’s death, Julia channelled her heartbreak into striving to change this statistic. In 2022, she set up The Autism Hive, a National Lottery-supported, non-profit organisation providing support for suicide prevention, intervention and post-intervention for the autistic community in Northern Ireland.

As the only autism-specific agency offering these services in the region, where one in 20 children have a diagnosis, it offers an invaluable lifeline.

In recognition of her incredible work setting up The Autism Hive and helping families in Northern Ireland with autistic children, Julia was voted the winner of the Community and Charity category in The 2023 National Lottery Awards.

Julia adds, “There is suicide information out there but it rarely covers autism. To learn autistic people have a higher risk of dying by suicide was shocking. We saw Luke’s laptop and mobile phone, and that’s when I realised he had actually been considering ending his life since January 2021. Luke texted me a lot, and I now understand he was trying to say what he felt but just couldn’t.

“I thought that other families need this information, otherwise there’s going to be more deaths. The reaction to The Autism Hive has been amazing. People feel relieved they know what to watch out for.”

World Autism Awareness Day is on 2nd April 2024.

21st March 2024

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