AVENTURA, Fla. — Viktor Bevanda sings while he works, the oil pastel in his hand dashing across the paper as he fills in a sketch of a basset hound with bright, vivid colors.

Bevanda, 14, is an immigrant from Serbia and is on the autism spectrum. He’s semi-verbal, meaning he has the ability to speak, but with great difficulty.

With a determined flow, he shifts between colored pastels in a matter of seconds while his mother, Andrea Bevanda, records the process for his more than 500,000 TikTok followers.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“He started to draw when he was able to hold a pen,” Bevanda said. “He was always drawing. Our walls in our old house were full of his drawings.”

As a child, Viktor would literally coat their walls in cartoons, scribbles and letters. But instead of condemning the behavior, the Bevandas redirected his creative energy toward a passion for the arts.

Though Bevanda always knew her son was talented, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic while watching Viktor draw during quarantine that she realized the extent of his abilities, she said.

At first, she began posting his art on her Facebook page and received a wave of praise from not just her friends and family, but strangers enamored with Viktor’s art. Then she moved to Instagram, TikTok, Etsy and eventually their own website, Vichy’s Art, selling prints of Viktor’s work.

A top seller: Pet portraits, in which customers send in a photo of their animal to be depicted in Viktor’s style of radiant primary colors.

But the Bevandas were not expecting so much success.

“First we were so confused. I couldn’t handle that popularity,” Bevanda said. “But after a while when we got so many good reviews, I decided to go with that to make him famous.”

In 2022, they were selling enough prints that they decided to open a gallery in Aventura. Though Bevanda and her husband Boris work full time, the gallery has become their family business, and everyone plays their part, Bevanda said.

Viktor’s father and older brother, Boris Jr., 17, help create the prints while Bevanda is in charge of the website and social media. She also helps plan art show tours, where Viktor’s fans can have their prints signed by the artist himself.

But it’s not just art admirers who are captivated by Viktor’s talent. Many other families of children with autism find inspiration in how the Bevandas have turned Viktor’s passion into a career, and they frequently write letters and emails asking for advice.

“I’ve seen your son’s posts before and I cannot wait to buy a print for my oldest who is on the spectrum as well. Art is truly therapy!” wrote one of Viktor’s followers on a Facebook post. “My question is how did you bring out your children’s abilities?” wrote another with a child with autism.

Children with severe autism often need to be cared for throughout their lives, and Viktor’s story gives many families hope that they can someday help their child provide for themselves financially.

Viktor needs help dressing and feeding himself, and drawing is one of the few things he can do by himself. The Bevandas are hopeful his art will support him in the future.

Despite the droves of letters and social media followers, Viktor doesn’t seem to care about the attention, the Bevandas said. They aren’t sure if he’s aware of the impact his work has on people. For Viktor, art is simply a means of expression.

Because Viktor is semi-verbal and has extreme difficulty socializing, he communicates through his pastels. When he draws while singing along to his YouTube videos, his family knows he’s in a good mood. When he’s aggressive with his supplies, they know he’s frustrated and needs to rest.

Since they realized he was different when he was 3 years old, the Bevandas sought to meet Viktor’s needs and get to know how his mind worked.

That would require extra care and patience, Boris Bevanda Jr. said.

“He can get on our nerves sometimes. But we’ve got to stay patient with him because we know what kind of person he is, that he doesn’t mean any harm, that he doesn’t mean to annoy us,” he said.

Since immigrating from Serbia in 2018, Viktor and his brother saw less of each other as their lives got busier with work and school. But through their teenage years, their relationship has remained ironclad, Bevanda Jr. said.

They like to play video games together and go to the beach — a luxury not often enjoyed in their native Serbia.

When he talks about his little brother with his friends, Bevanda Jr. beams with pride. It’s especially exciting when one of Viktor’s videos appears in their TikTok feeds.

But Bevanda Jr. doesn’t feel overshadowed by his brother’s internet fame, as he’s not one who enjoys the spotlight anyway, he said.

He’s just appreciative his brother can live a happier life than he would have in Serbia, a country with fewer resources for children like Viktor.

For example, while attending school in Serbia, Viktor was put in classes with neurotypical students — those who don’t exhibit symptoms of an autism spectrum — and denied the special attention he required. There weren’t teachers trained to assist children with learning disabilities, and he was largely left to fend for himself.

“In Serbia, if you’re not normal, if you’re not the same as everybody else, people look at you differently — people treat you differently,” Bevanda Jr. said.

Teachers often didn’t grasp the needs of children on the spectrum. When Viktor would become overstimulated by loud noises and social situations, they’d sometimes misinterpret his frustration as misbehavior.

Viktor currently attends a private school that specializes in students with intellectual disabilities.

While Viktor isn’t defined by his disability, it has allowed him to become a role model for other youth on the spectrum and their families. With the help of his family, Viktor has become a teenage entrepreneur, an inspiration to thousands of people and a hero in the autism community.

But above all, he’s a light at the center of his family.

“The most important thing,” Bevanda said, “is that he taught us to be better people.”

© 2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.