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!
When Colette Friest traveled to Minnesota from Iowa to take her seven year old daughter, Lainey, to visit a learning center in Edina, she did not want Lainey to miss out on the occupational therapy and speech services she receives weekly while at home. A friend recommended she see our specialists at A Chance To Grow in place of her own while in Minnesota. Little did she know that our occupational therapy program would provide results that would change her daughter’s life forever.
When Colette first arrived at ACTG to take Lainey to see Occupational Therapist (OT) Angela Rosales, she expected Angela would use the same traditional approach that she has seen OTs use with Lainey in the past. Instead, Angela used our own unique approach, which differs from approaches at other therapy centers because it uses brain-friendly methods such as Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI)* to lay the foundation for motor function and everyday life skills.
Colette says that being introduced to reflex integration therapy was one of Lainey’s most important and life-changing experiences. Before her time at ACTG, Lainey was nonverbal, had fine and gross motor issues, lacked focus and had difficulty with fine motor planning. Other challenges included reading and talking.
OTs at ACTG have taken courses in MNRI and use the method often. Julie Neumann, ACTG OT, said that focusing on the integration of Lainey’s reflex patterns allowed Angela to lay the foundation necessary for Lainey to develop higher-level motor and everyday life skills. As a result, Lainey’s life has been drastically changed.
“We have seen huge differences in our daughter in just the two months that we have been doing reflex integration, and the fact that ACTG has OTs who can do these reflexes with kids can make a big difference in children’s lives. Many parents are like us and don’t have time to go to conferences and learn things like reflex integration, so this is huge. If it wasn’t for Angela introducing me to reflex integration at ACTG, we wouldn’t know about it and we’d still be stuck,” Colette said.
When asked to reflect on her time working with the Friests, Angela said, “They are such a solid family. Colette has a fearless approach when helping her daughter succeed. Her initiative and ambition are very impressive.”
For eleven weeks, Colette and Lainey stayed at a hotel Monday through Friday, traveling back home to Iowa on most weekends. During her time at ACTG, Lainey also saw Bridget Russ for Speech Therapy and Becky Aish for Audio Visual Entrainment and EEG Biofeedback. Colette said these additional interventions further strengthened Lainey’s ability to focus, talk and overall, act more mature.
Now, over five months later, Lainey’s verbal skills continue to improve. Finally, Colette is able to read stories to her daughter from beginning to end, and Lainey actually follows along!
“We had a great experience at ACTG. I want other families to hear about it. Lainey has been in therapy since age two, and we have seen more improvements in two months than we saw in five years. If parents really want to do something that can be life-changing for their child, I can’t stress highly enough how much of a difference A Chance To Grow’s programs can make.”
Another thing Colette said she loves about ACTG is the fact that our Founder and Co- Director, Bob DeBoer, has been in her shoes.
“He had a special needs child himself and understands where we’re coming from. That makes a huge difference. Not many therapy places start with a founder who had a special needs child and knows exactly what we’re going through,” Colette said.
*The Masgutova Method (MNRI) focuses on the important role of children’s automatic motor reflexes and underlying neurosensorimotor mechanisms. Occupational Therapists trained in the Masgutova Method learn to understand the difference between automatic motor reflexes and learned motor reflexes.
Justin the Superstar! Before visiting A Chance To Grow, Justin would hesitate in the middle of words when trying to speak, which made it hard for anyone else to understand him. In first grade, he didn’t know all of his sounds and reading and writing frustrated him.
In October of his first grade year, Justin was falling behind and began to hate school. He felt he was stupid. It brought tears to his mother’s eyes. In November of that year, she attended the S.M.A.R.T. Workshop and met Cheryl Smythe, Assistant Director of the Minnesota Learning Resource Center (MLRC). Cheryl encouraged her to have his vision and auditory processing skills tested at A Chance To Grow.
The testing told her he was below age level in much of his developmental vision, so she started doing boost up (S.M.A.R.T.) activities at home with him. He worked really hard on Creeping, Crawling, Spinning and Rolling, enabling him to move onto vision therapy activities. His mother also started him on the Hemispheric Specific Auditory Stimulation (HSAS) (now JIAS) program at A Chance To Grow to help with his auditory processing. Within three weeks of starting HSAS, Justin was able to sing all the words at his Christmas program on beat and with the other children-- something he hadn’t been able to do before. WOW! First grade was a struggle, but Justin had made it through.
When second grade started, the school tested him at a pre-primer reading level. Him and his mother continued to work on his vision and auditory issues. He showed real strength in math and by the end of second grade he was at a 1.7 reading level. This was almost an improvement of two grades!
By the end of his second grade school year, Justin was done with vision therapy and was put onto maintenance for the HSAS program. By this point, Justin’s articulation had improved so much that many people didn’t know he even had an articulation delay.
In third grade, he was still struggling with writing and still behind in reading. He received Title 1 services and worked hard at home. Justin did score ‘proficient’ on the Wisconsin state reading test that March, but things still didn’t seem quite right. He was having a hard time following along and keeping up in the classroom.
A Chance To Grow checked his ears again and found he had regressed on his auditory processing skills. After also having his reflexes checked by Dr. Moroz at A Chance To Grow Vision Services, it was found that he still had some primitive reflexes interfering with his ability to write and maintain the progress he had made in some of his prior therapy. Within weeks of starting the reflex therapy at home, he commented on how much “easier” writing was. Then, when given the choice to read, write or do math (his favorite), he chose writing. He wrote three stories that summer. This was great for a child who at one time had a hard time writing one word!
Justin, you are a superstar!