ABINGDON, Va. — Rather than go stir-crazy with cabin fever during the COVID-19 pandemic, an autistic teenager is using the downtime to learn a new skill that he is using to help others.
TaKota Allen, 14, has not always had an easy time of growing up.
“My life has been very challenging,” he said. “I have struggled with impulsiveness, friendships, academics, communication, empathy, and I have felt loneliness and low self-esteem for years.”
When he was about 6 years old, his teachers noticed that he was having a hard time in school — he couldn’t sit still and had trouble focusing. Health care professionals used the NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scales to diagnose TaKota with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, it was not until many years later that his doctors assessed him as being high-functioning Level 1 autistic.
“Many doctors just kind of skimmed over all of the results and put all of their focus in the ADHD, which really set us back,” said his mother, Tina McBride-Buck. “So for many years, doctors kept scratching their heads, trying to prescribe different medications, different therapies, different ways of addressing it, rather than addressing that he doesn’t just have ADHD, he also has autism.
“Once we actually went to a doctor who actually gave him the right diagnosis, they said, ‘You can’t fix autism. He has it, you have to learn how to cope with it and learn with it.’ Once we started him on the right track, that’s when we started to see him really blossom.”
Unfortunately, like many autistic children, TaKota struggles socially and has a hard time making friends. But he also has the common autistic traits of being phenomenal with numbers and math. He also excels in music and currently plays five instruments, including clarinet, saxophone, xylophone, piano and drums. He learns musical instruments easily, and playing them is therapeutic for him as well.
Recently, he started a new craft that has proven to be excellent therapy for him: making and selling jewelry. He makes necklaces, bracelets, anklets and also car pendulums out of glass beads, Swarovski crystals and semiprecious gemstones. His plan in starting the venture was to donate the proceeds from his creations to help other autistic children.
“I decided to turn the negativity [of autism] into a positive,” TaKota explained. “My beautiful necklaces and bracelets will provide self-therapy, hope and awareness, and I am advocating for others who cannot speak and vocalize.”
TaKota’s goal was to raise $500 to donate to a local autism program. He started his project just over a month ago and expected it to take close to a year to raise his goal, but already, he has raised $500 and will donate it to the autism program at Blue Mountain Therapy in Abingdon. His donation will fund a new playground that will have a sign in his honor.
“We weren’t expecting this huge of support, but there has been so many people that have come forward,” McBride said. “So many people just come forward and tell their stories and so many people who have children who have autism. We are just trying to reach out, see how many people we can touch, even if they don’t have autism, how we can help in some way to comfort. We are so honored when we get an opportunity to meet new people, and we want to reach as many people as possible.”
All of the pieces also include a silver ribbon pendant with the word “Hope” inscribed. McBride explains that the hope can apply to people with any kind of challenge, whether it’s autism, cancer, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis — she and TaKota want the pieces to bring a little light to anyone facing a struggle. Autistic people can also get a silver puzzle piece pendant that represents autism.
“Since he has had this goal and doing what he’s doing, he just seems different, he seems happier,” said Cindy McBride, his grandmother. “He’s so proud of himself to be able to help autistic kids. I think he found his niche on what he really wants to do, and I have seen a big difference in him. He’s just so excited.”
After he donates this first batch of proceeds, which he plans to do the first week of August, TaKota already plans to continue with his project and raise more money to help autistic children.
“He is an amazing kid,” said Jennifer Bridge, one of his teachers from the Neff Vocational Center in Abingdon. “He found something that seems to help him focus, and that’s really good and productive. He’s raising money for an amazing cause. It’s hard to find people these days who are so passionate about others. It’s so nice to see that he is growing and getting out of his shell and just being happy.”
Laura J. Mondul is a freelance writer. Email her with Hometown Stories ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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