Illusionist brings special magic to classroom

Posted 3/24/12

When then-budding illusionist Kevin Spencer was 26, a car accident crushed his lower spine and injured his brain. It was, he says now, the best thing …

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Illusionist brings special magic to classroom


When then-budding illusionist Kevin Spencer was 26, a car accident crushed his lower spine and injured his brain. It was, he says now, the best thing that ever happened to him.

In the ensuing year of intense, painful and often stupefyingly boring physical therapy, an idea bloomed.

The movements required in physical therapy were the same, he noticed, as many he made doing magic tricks.

“I went to the head of the therapy department and said, ‘We can make this fun.’”

More than two decades later, the Healing of Magic program that grew out of that idea is now practiced in 2,000 hospitals and rehabilitation facilities in 30 countries.

As of this week, it could be 2,001 facilities; Spencer conducted a training March 21 for occupational and physical therapists at Lone Tree’s Sky Ridge Medical Center.

The next day, he brought a version of the program specifically designed for students to a classroom at Highlands Ranch’s Mountain Ridge Middle School.

Many of the middle- and high-school students there are autistic, wheelchair-bound or otherwise mentally or physically challenged.

Performing magic tricks under Spencer’s direction, they were simply kids: laughing with equal parts excitement and amazement at his demonstrations and, later in the session, their ability to perform the illusions themselves.

“When you see them walking out with a confidence they didn’t have when they came in, it’s so rewarding,” Spencer said. “You’re giving them the ability to do something the able-bodied kids can’t do.”

That, he said, fills them with a self-confidence some have never before experienced.

“Motor skills, processing, coordination — everything we take for granted as able-bodied people — comes together in a magic trick,” Spencer said. “The great thing about magic is the payoff at the end works them through the frustration of getting to it.”

Autistic kids catch on especially fast.

“Magic is patterns and about sequences,” said Spencer, something autistic kids immediately recognize.

In some schools, Spencer has paired able-bodied kids with disabled students to create another sleight-of-hand.

“When the quarterback asks the Asperger’s student, ‘How did you do that?’ it makes the quarterback perceive this child as someone different than he thought he was,” Spencer said.

Spencer’s high-energy personality engages the students almost as quickly as the illusions.

With a boyish build and spiky blond hair, Spencer nearly blends with the students. It’s the dramatic gestures, most accompanied by a wide, dimpled smile, that identify him as a performer.

Yet Spencer is far more than that. He’s studied the physical science and psychological impacts of his methods, written and published research in medical journals and gained approval from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

He travels the world speaking about the therapeutic applications of magic, and teaches a class on the subject at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

It’s a life he never could have imagined during that excruciating year of therapy. And it’s tilted his vision of that near-fatal accident almost upside down.

“It was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Spencer said.

Many of the students it touches might say the same about Hocus Focus, the special education program Spencer brought to Mountain Ridge. Teacher Rocki Surgue will use the teachers’ curriculum based on the program in the coming weeks, revealing to the students a new trick each week.


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