Q&A with Dr. Shelby May!
In the mid-1980s, ACTG’s founders, Bob and Kathy DeBoer, brought in Dr. Robert Zwicky, a pioneer in vision therapy, which goes beyond basic eye examinations to look at how visual information is processed by the brain and how the body responds to it. This approach became the foundation of the clinic’s approach today. Dr. Zwicky brought in Dr. Janyce Moroz in 1989, a Developmental Optometrist whose training in reflexes brought a new dimension to the practice. She recognized, without reflex integration, there wouldn’t be a solid foundation to help higher-level visual skills function at a basic level.
Over the years, other optometrists brought in additional perspectives. In the early 1990s, Dr. Garth Christiansen brought programs for binocular vision and dyslexia, while, from 1998 to 2019, Dr. Michele Taylor expanded the clinic’s capacity to provide full functioning eye exams and vision therapy. In 2011, powered by Dr. Moroz’s deep commitment to help children within the community, the ACTG Mobile Vision Clinic was started, providing greater access to vision services for young children from low-income families. Headstart provided basic screenings and referred children to the clinic. Dr. Moroz then performed developmental eye exams and provided recommendations for further services. Children who needed eye glasses would get them from the clinic if their caregivers approved.
In 2019, after more than three decades of service at ACTG’s Vision Clinic, Dr. Moroz and the Vision Team retired. We knew it would take a special kind of doctor to fill her shoes, one who could carry on her commitment to improving lives through vision therapy and continue her legacy of providing innovative, highly effective services to children and adults. We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Shelby May, O.D. is joining the Vision Clinic on July 7. Dr. May is a Developmental Optometrist who, while thoroughly grounded in the multidisciplinary approach that has made ACTG’s clinic unique, will help bring us to the next level in providing vision services that address the whole person.
We’ll let her introduce herself:
ACTG: Who are you?
SM: I’m a Developmental Optometrist. Basically I’m an eye doctor that looks at the eyes and brain as a whole and tries to help those systems work together as well as I can.
ACTG: Tell us about your training.
SM: My dad is an optometrist, so I learned at his knee. I’m a fairly recent graduate from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN, where I had the absolute privilege of working with brilliant people with really powerful thoughts on how developmental optometry works. Then I was lucky enough to have an elective class on special needs in optometry. It really changed how I approach therapy, mostly because it got me to look at vision as a whole, not just as an eyeball in a brain in a head, but an eyeball in a brain in a body in a process and a surrounding socioeconomic situation and a surrounding family. All those extra variables have to be part of the treatment.
So instead of going broad and doing everything, I decided I would focus on vision therapy and just dive super deep, be a specialist essentially, and it’s made me very very happy. It's so much deeper even than I expected it to be because it goes so beyond eyes, which is why we’re here.
ACTG: What is Developmental Vision?
It’s important for people to know that vision is more than 20/20, is more than seeing clearly. It is seeing well, interpreting that, and then doing something with your body that is what you want, that creates a learning space.
Developmental vision is first of all figuring out what the conversation is between your eyes and your brain and your body, then seeing what we can do to make it as strong as possible, and that manifests in a thousand ways. No two patients will ever look the same, so tailoring that program to you is the biggest part of success.
ACTG: What is the prevalence of developmental vision issues, how many children are likely to have them?
SM: The easy number for vision-related learning changes or disabilities, we say one in four. Now that does not mean that one in four children needs vision therapy. It means that one in four have some sort of hiccup in the road, either that child overcomes that hiccup, or has enough power essentially to reteach or learn on their own, but not everyone compensates and not everyone compensates in a healthy way.
ACTG: Can you compare and contrast the approach used by Drs. Zwicky and Moroz and what you do?
SM: Developmental optometry is really exciting field to be in right now because it’s changing at the speed of light. A lot of things that we were doing when Dr. Zwicky and Dr. Moroz were being trained were new theories at the time and not super-well researched, but we knew it worked, anecdotally. For example, Dr. Zwicky was well ahead of his time with his use of colored light therapy to treat the full body through the eyes. The basic concept is using color to change your sympathetic/parasympathetic balance. The body responds to color, the way you feel in a red room feels very different than the way you feel in a green room. When Dr. Zwicky was doing it, it was very broad – red, red orange, red blue, we’re going to mix these and it seems to do things on this. Since then, there's been plenty of research, and now we take that in very small narrow doses in very specific colors, which does very dramatic things to the body. I'm definitely looking forward to restarting that in a way that can both help my vision patients, and others. It can be wildly successful for OT patients as well. How can we make your session more powerful, let’s get you in the right mind and body set before we get you moving?
ACTG: So part of your agenda is to do more to integrate vision therapy with other modalities?
SM: Absolutely. We know this is going to take time, but so many times, an optometrist looks at a kid and thinks, “Gosh, you really need a little OT before we get started.” That’s not something that a stand-alone vision therapy office is going to be able to coordinate. And that’s the beauty of an interdisciplinary site like this.
That’s so exciting for me because we talk a lot about the triangle of vision in my field -- this idea that the body builds the base for the eyes to function, and the eyes starts the conversation to get the body to go. The simple way to put that is “vision is motor and motor is vision.” It's so exciting because reflex talks to that in a way sometimes I can't. It does vision things in a body way that I can't necessarily do.
ACTG: You have a talent for explaining complicated things in an easy way!
SM: My whole job is to teach you what your brain is doing. If I can't communicate that, then I'm not doing my job.
ACTG: What’s one thing you’d like our clients to know about you?
SM: I am so genuinely excited to work with and come to know each one of you, your kids, and your whole families! I look forward to being involved in your development and your eye-brain connection! See you soon!