Tragedy underlines need for autism support networks

On Sept. 27, Jackie McKean lost her 11-year-old autistic son Jeremy in a murder-suicide at the hands of her estranged husband.

On Nov. 1 she held a tribute for her son. McKean stood in front of family, friends and well-wishers to not only shine a light on Jeremy’s life, but also on the struggles, the joys and the reality of living with an autistic child.

The tribute was held at the University of Toronto Mississauga. McKean wore a shirt that read “Jeremy and Jesse’s mom” in colourful print with “Jackie” on the front. Jessie, her younger son, sat with her family while McKean spoke lovingly of her son and her family.

“I’m hoping today to make people understand that even if you do something small for someone, it can make a big difference.” McKean said.

Jeremy was diagnosed with autism shortly after he was 18 months old and McKean threw herself into finding programs and support for him. Jeremy’s father, Jeffrey Bostick, took him skating and grocery shopping.

Bostick and McKean found great support and friendship in other families with autistic children. When McKean and Bostick separated, Bostick told McKean he was moving to Edmonton and would take the children if she agreed.

McKean has no regrets about how things ended with her and Bostick, the stress of taking care of both children was too much for her to bear alone, so Bostick and Jeremy left for Edmonton.

“I never said for him to take Jeremy, but I could not handle the two children on my own,” McKean explained.

McKean visited Jeremy once while Bostick and Jeremy were living in Edmonton and saw Bostick was struggling to raise Jeremy. McKean feels Bostick had become burnt out dealing with the daily tasks of taking care of an autistic child and felt he had no options left but to kill their son and himself. She does not blame Bostick for their son’s death.

“Jeff never put himself out there to people. And if he had, or been more open about needing help, I really think things would be different,” McKean said.

While raising Jeremy, McKean found strength in the network of other families and support groups for autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

“I think that this (Jeremy’s death) is a mindset issue, a networking issue. I think that this is about not understanding personal limits and not reaching out when they needed help.”

Kerri McKean, Jackie’s sister, came to speak about autism and to give the attendees statistics.

Autism affects boys four times more often than girls, Kerri said. The divorce rate for families with an autistic child is 80 times higher than that of other families. Also, bankruptcy is 10 times more likely in these families.

And depression, suicide and murder also play a part.

“Even the most serene and loving parents in the world have a breaking point,” Kerri said.

Kerri McKean choked back tears, struggling to get through her speech.

“We all know why we are here, but this is an all-too-common tragedy,” she continued.

Jackie remembered Bostick as a loving and caring father who created a grocery cart train to take his kids shopping.

“He loved being with his boys,” she said.

Although Jeremy’s death was a tragedy, his life gave his mother a network of friends and support.

“I’m very grateful for the connections that I have made as a result of being exposed to ASD,” Jackie said through tears.