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!
“All therapists are there for the children’s best interest. It’s obvious to see. They have no other motives but that.” —Emma Milliken, Josh’s mom
In Fall of 2010, Emma Milliken experienced something that many parents do. Her son’s kindergarten teachers told her and her husband that their son, Josh, struggled to follow directions, write and pay attention. Josh’s teachers suggested they take him to the doctor to be evaluated and possibly put on ADHD medication.
As motivated parents and natives of England, the Millikens felt skeptical about this route for their child.
"American culture is to ‘go to the doctor and get drugs,' but that is not our way,” Emma said.
While researching other options and talking with other parents, Emma became aware of Vision Therapy and its amazing results. Emma opted for this route; first taking Josh for a Vision Therapy evaluation at another site. She also decided to have Josh evaluated by A Chance To Grow’s Audiologist, Dr. Sara Cook. During Josh’s evaluation with Cook, Emma asked about the difference between A Chance To Grow’s Vision Therapy program and the other program where Josh had received an evaluation.
“Vision Therapy at A Chance To Grow is very child-specific rather than a formal, ‘cookie cutter’ program that you will see at most other places,” Cook said.
Recognizing this and the convenience of having all her son’s needs met under one roof, Emma had Josh assessed for Vision Therapy at A Chance To Grow. After the exam, The A Chance To Grow optometrists concluded that Josh had unintegrated primitive reflexes and suggested Occupational Therapy. While Vision Therapy was an option, it was likely the desired results would not occur without first working on Josh’s primitive reflexes. Impressed with the honesty of A Chance To Grow’s staff and motivated to do everything she could to help her son, Emma took Josh to see Julie Neumann, A Chance To Grow Occupational Therapist. Neumann informed her that Josh’s left and right brain were only integrated 20%. In January 2012, Josh began working with Neumann.
“Watching my son work so hard and struggle with such basic things has been a humbling and challenging experience for me,” Emma said.
Seeing the hurdles ahead, Emma and her husband chose to pull Josh from school to concentrate on getting him on track for the following year. After about eight months of vigorous OT work with Neumann, Auditory Therapy with Dr. Sara Cook and intense reflex work at home, Josh returned to school.
“The teacher told me that Josh is a completely different child,” Emma said with tears in her eyes.
Josh’s teacher even asks him questions like, “Remember when we did this same assignment last year?” And he’ll respond, “Yes, but that was when my eyes weren’t working.”
Extremely happy with her family’s experience at A Chance To Grow, Emma has now placed Josh in EEG Biofeedback with Neurotechnology Director Becky Aish, and he is set to finish his OT work with Neumann in December!
“He’s confident and happily on the same level as his peers,” Emma said. “My heart goes out to parents who don’t realize ACTG is here. All therapists work for the child’s best interest. It’s obvious to see. They have no other motives but that. This program here is amazing and more people should know about it. Josh can feel the difference A Chance To Grow has made within himself.”
Thea entered first grade just after her seventh birthday. She was very excited about learning to read. Her parents had no reason to believe that she would have any trouble learning since she had flourished both academically and socially in kindergarten. Her accomplishments up to this point were astounding.
She was born prematurely and required oxygen and intravenous nutrition during her first three years of life. Early in her infancy, doctors said she was both blind and deaf. Later, she was properly diagnosed with dyspraxia and learned to communicate through sign language. She began speaking by her third year and each passing day she became closer and closer to being “on track” developmentally. When she entered school at the age of six, Thea seemed to be a perfectly normal kindergartner. Then came the first grade.
At the first parent-teacher conference, Thea’s teacher informed her parents that there were signs of serious trouble. Thea was exhibiting learning, behavioral and attention problems. The problems were so significant her teacher did not know where one started and the other left off. Her parents were devastated. Even worse, Thea was very upset and became frustrated as she kept falling behind the other students. Her medical team and school began testing.
The test results indicated that Thea also had dyslexia and her frustration was creating the behavior problems. She was eventually placed on an individual education plan while beginning special education and occupational therapy in school in school. At this time, Thea’s mother happened to attend a lecture by Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out of Sync Child. The free lecture was held at A Chance To Grow (ACTG). She had never heard of the organization and decided to take a tour after the lecture. “I was so impressed,” commented Paula. “The very next week I scheduled an appointment for Thea at ACTG’s vision department.
Thea received a complete eye exam and then a developmental evaluation in order to identify visual integration problems. The results clearly indicated that Thea had difficulty processing visual material. Thea’s parents decided to enroll her in ACTG’s vision therapy program.
She received individual vision therapy throughout the following summer and during the first several weeks of second grade. Paula recalls, “The staff that worked with Thea were incredible! They bonded with her and were able to bring out the best in her in a very nurturing way. She began to happily look forward to her vision therapy. Her gains were becoming more evident and each accomplishment of hers was celebrated along the way.” Despite Thea’s gains, her mother witnessed something even more amazing.
Thea, who had struggled to print her name legibly, began writing short stories for everyone to enjoy! Here was a young girl who had struggled to read the simplest of primers, who began checking out chapter books from the library. As the new school year progressed, Thea was up to grade level work in all areas. “Her special education teacher told us that it was a special, but rare treat to release a young student from special education during the elementary years”, remarked Paula. “The teacher told us that it is incredibly rare to have such a young child make as much progress as Thea had done in such a short amount of time.” It was clear that the vision therapy played a major role in her success.
Her mother concluded by saying, “We are all so proud of Thea and so thankful for the people at A Chance To Grow. They have helped her become the audaciously, securely intelligent child that she is!”