Family experienced severe behavioural problems with autistic son
By RICHARD LIEBRECHT, SUN MEDIA
Last Updated: September 30, 2009 3:16am
It was a "loving, caring" father who killed his 11-year-old autistic son before killing himself, according to family.
That message was passed through a social worker who tried helping the family cope with struggles that bring many parents to the edge.
"I wasn't surprised. It was a feeling of dread, like oh my god, it happened," said Karen Phillips, program director for the Autism Society of Edmonton Area, who worked directly with the suffering family.
"(The mother) said (the father) just couldn't handle it anymore. He couldn't cope. He was worried his son wasn't going to get what he needed.
"Something had to give here."
She broke down, saying, "the bottom line here is that I do worry. There are other families that I worry about. There's intense stress over the long term. It puts people at very high risk, so no, I wasn't very surprised."
The 39-year-old father locked himself in the basement of the family's home at 8403 138 Ave. and, somehow, committed the acts.
The causes of their deaths have not been released, at the request of the surviving mother to protect her remaining young son, said Patrycia Thenu, police spokesman.
However, cops are dubbing it a homicide-suicide.
The bodies were found by family just before 1 p.m. Sunday.
The 11-year-old threw thrashing fits and slept poorly, said Phillips.
In the spring of 2008, he had such a tantrum that his family took him to Royal Alexandra hospital.
"The family gets to the point of becoming unglued. They don't know what to do," said Phillips.
Royal Alex staff originally said it was the wrong place to take him, she said.
She notes that there are no emergency services for autistic people when parents lose control. Also, parents never really know if their child is freaking out because something is medically wrong with them.
The 11-year-old spent 20 hours strapped to a hospital bed, screaming, said Phillips.
It was the breaking point. After 10 years of home care, the family sought to have their son sent out for care.
"They were wondering what they were going to do now with his severe behavioural problems," said Phillips.
It took some time to find a placement.
Meanwhile, the family was stressed. The stress didn't break, even as a group home took the 11-year-old on weekdays.
"Mom has said it's kind of been an accumulation of stress that's built up over time," said Phillips.
Phillips urged that the government and community must step forward to offer parents of autistic children more support, especially for emergency relief.