Julia McKeever set up The Autism Hive, a charity that provides suicide prevention services for the autistic community, following a tragedy in her own life.
Luke O’Hara was diagnosed with autism aged 12. At just 25, in the spring of 2021, he took his own life. A Swedish study from 2015 reported suicide as the second leading cause of early death for autistic people, while autism research and campaigning charity Autistica reports autistic adults with no learning disability are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.
After Luke’s death, his heartbroken mum, Julia McKeever, decided to channel the pain of her loss into doing all she could to change these numbers. She set up The Autism Hive, a non-profit organisation providing support for suicide prevention, intervention and post-intervention for the autistic community and their families in Northern Ireland.
As the only autism specific agency offering these services in the region, where one in 20 children have a diagnosis of autism, the organisation offers an invaluable lifeline for those in need. The charity delivers accredited autism awareness courses as well as suicide prevention and intervention training for anyone who could come into contact with an autistic person in their everyday life, with the aim of making the community more aware of the particular vulnerabilities of autistic people so they are able to help.
Led by Julia, The Autism Hives runs ‘The Autism Hub’, a fortnightly social club to bring young autistic people together for a range of activities, including video game nights and outings. Julia also campaigns for better education and training in mental health for autistic people and has plans in place to provide a broad range of services from drop-in cafes and a befriending network to education programmes in schools and workplaces.
Julia said: “I have such a passion for The Autism Hive because I truly believe we can save lives. I wouldn’t be doing this without Luke, and he really is the centre of everything we do. In every direction I take, I look back at Luke’s life to make sure other kids in his situation don’t do what he did. I’m still grieving, but this work has got me up out of bed and gives me a direction to keep going in Luke’s memory.”
“It feels very emotional to win a National Lottery Award, as all the work that we do at the Autism Hive is to honour the memory of my son Luke. The National Lottery were the first to lend support when we started the charity, and it’s thanks to this help that we’ve been able to offer a lifeline to other vulnerable children and adults in the autistic community. We hope that the prize money will help us to save more lives. It really is such an honour.”
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