November 11, 2020
It started when Spencer was very young, his love of animals and his ability to memorize facts. As parents of those with autism, we are encouraged to use interests and obsessions to further educate, and so we did. We added geography, where the animals are found and an abundance of science. He memorized facts from videos, movies, books, stories and created scripts in his head about the animals. At 17, he became a ZooTeen helping to enrich the experience of visitors to the Zoo. This served a new purpose, as his animal knowledge was more than sufficient, he could use this strength to improve his socialization skills. After two summers, he became a ZooTeen Leader.
Even our family vacations catered to Seneca Park Zoo animals. We visited Dhara (orangutan) at The Virginia Zoo, The Mystic Aquarium where Boomerang (sea lion) came from, Cape May Zoo where Kaba (snow leopard) came from and Columbia, SC to check in on PJ (sea lion). On these trips he would go into “docent” mode speaking to guests at these zoos about the animals. I remember a specific interaction in Virginia overlooking an African habitat with multiple animals. Twenty or so guests were taking in the view when he looked down from the decked area and pronounced loudly, “Wow, look at that yellow backed duiker”, and proceeded to tell us all about it. I’m guessing none of us would have even noticed the animal tucked away under where we were standing, but all of our attention was immediately drawn to it. That’s the awesome thing about him. His passion is contagious.
In March when his school program became minimal and virtual, he got the idea of sharing his passion virtually. He created short 1-3 minute video clips on an animal each day and we posted them to Facebook. His following caught on quickly and comments were shared including questions which were researched and answered. Deb McGwin who had taken his senior photos created a tee-shirt for him as a gift, and by thanking her on Facebook, other “fans” of his requested shirts. Imprintable Solutions created a link where those interested could purchase a shirt and added $4 as a donation to be collected for him to present to our Seneca Park Zoo. His first check presentation is for 158 shirt sales or $632. His following continues to grow and fans watch him now from Canada, Florida, California, Colorado. We love the interactions with viewers sharing their own photos and experiences with the animal of the day.
At a time with heightened anxiety and uncertainty around Covid, Spencer’s videos bring a bright spot to many people’s days. His personality and passion oozes. As the number of videos increases each day (currently #234), it’s a reminder to many of how long we’ve been restricted. To us, it is a reminder of his passion and diligence to give back to his community.
-Ann Cole, Spencer’s Mom