As a recent award recipient, we recently caught up to Dr. Robert Lederman, the 2020 recipient of the “Making VT Visible” award, who had these thoughts to share:

First and foremost, congratulations on receiving the “Making VT Visible” Award!

Thank you. It means a lot to me.

This award is for “outstanding contributions to public awareness of vision therapy and developmental vision care”. Can you share your feelings on the importance of educating the public on the benefits of Vision Therapy?

Making VT visible is something that I have dedicated much of my professional life to. After all, “Undiagnosed and Untreated Visual Inefficiencies” is the title of the first chapter of so many stories of lives not fully lived. Sadly, it remains largely unread. Only we can help that change that. And that has to be through education.

When I moved to Israel in 1990, there were but a handful of practitioners practicing OVT. I remember making phone calls to schools and to people overseeing various programs dedicated to preparing teachers to help kids with learning difficulties in universities and elsewhere. I would tell them that their students need to hear at least one lecture about the role of vision in learning.

My very first lecture was at a local school in 1997. My spoken Hebrew wasn’t great. In fact, I would invite the audience to correct my Hebrew as necessary. In the early years, I am not sure who gained more; the audience in their increased awareness about vision, or me, by having an intense Hebrew-speaking lesson as I presented! In that year I also presented at a hi-tech firm about Computer Vision Syndrome, and to a large group of psychologists.

By 1997 I was presenting annually using the OEP prepared slides about vision and learning, on the British Dyslexia Association course at the Bar Ilan University. I used a slide projector (remember those? – You must be old!!!)

On average I was giving about 10 presentations at least, each year. That’s now become over 300 presentations. Following are some of the highlights:

Lecturing in Istanbul at a conference on Dyslexia, or in Prague at the conference of the Feurstein Institute were obviously very memorable. It was very satisfying to lecture at the Technion Institute for Technology and to become an annual visiting lecturer at the Safra Brain Research Institute for Learning Disabilities.

Interestingly, I gave the first lecture in Israel to the Israeli Association of Occupational Therapists on the topic of Retained Primitive Reflexes.  From early on I understood that raising public awareness of how integral vision is in our lives, was going to be the key to encouraging more optometrists to move into the field of Developmental Optometry. Though educating optometrists is important, I feel that if Optometry students would be more confident that there is a real demand out in the population, and about the changes that can be made in people’s lives, they would feel more confident about investing the necessary resources required to achieve competence in providing the benefits of Developmental Optometry to the public. And indeed, here in Israel we now have a local Chapter of COVD, and very encouraging signs that awareness continues to grow, today from everyone’s efforts. And of course, over the last decade, social media has become a wonderful platform for broadcasting our message to the public.

I pray for the strength that will allow me to make continued efforts to do my part to continue increasing public awareness both here in Israel, and across the globe.

The last year and a half has been unusual, to say the least, as the world has worked to manage the COVID pandemic. With this, many optometric practices have had to shift their model of treatment, and by extension, their model of demonstrating to the public the benefits of Vision Therapy. Perhaps you’d be willing to share how your efforts have changed in this area over the last year and a half?

Giving in-office presentations to various groups was always something that was a regular feature at my practice. But when the pandemic started, I made an effort to learn how to use Facebook events, and Zoom. I gave a series of webinars that were well-received by a truly International audience. I really enjoyed this experience, and hope to do it again sometime. The really cool thing is when people join from all over the world.

What advice would you offer to newer optometrists who have joined COVD and are interested educating those in their area on the benefits of Vision Therapy?

You have to be proactive. Pick up the phone. Ask the person with whom you’re speaking if it is a convenient time to speak. If not, arrange to call back when it is. Remember “You are the Message!” If lecturing is not your thing, then it’s harder to get going. But I have personally helped people change in this regard too. If you keep in mind the critical role you can play in helping people live a more fulfilled life, it’ll be easier to stand in front of an audience. You already know so much about vision and there are so many groups who would benefit if they knew more about the essential role of vision in their lives. And luckily, people will be spellbound when you start to speak. Approach first the people you know. Ask parents if you could do a presentation for their child’s school. Ask parents if you could present at their company. Don’t be too disheartened if many say “no.” Someone will say “Yes”. Once they have heard a lecture, you”ll see that the word will spread.

As Israel’s first board certified FCOVD, you have been noted to understand the challenges and differences in visual demands and skills required when reading two different languages, such as Hebrew and English. Can elaborate on these challenges?

Unlike English and French, in vowelized Hebrew the relationship between what you see and what you say is almost 100% consistent. In vowelized Hebrew, there is no equivalent to the variations found in pronouncing “ough” as in the words enoughthroughcough. A language in which the graphemes (written symbols) correspond to the phonemes (significant spoken sounds) is called a transparent orthography. English is very much an opaque orthography, whereas vowelized Hebrew is highly transparent as are Spanish, Italian and Finnish among others. So, when it comes to reading vowelized Hebrew, if you know the letters and the vowels, and you know how to blend the sounds together, then you’re well on the way to accurate reading. The same cannot be said about reading English.

Let’s think for a moment about a child struggling to read English. If a child is sounding out the word one like own, because he thinks it must sound like tone or phone, then no amount of being told to “try again” or “look carefully” is going to change matters. Enlarging the font won’t make any difference either. He actually needs to be taught how to pronounce that sequence of letters. However, a child who can effortlessly sound out all the individual letters and vowels, and letter-vowel combinations required for Hebrew reading, but is reading vowelized Hebrew inaccurately will often be told to “look more carefully”. Often this will bring the desired result.

In contrast, no amount of “looking more carefully” or enlarging the font would change an incorrect pronunciation of the word one. In vowelized Hebrew the answer is on the page, while regarding English, other language-based knowledge is often required to read many of the words. And then there are the sight-words, which just are the way they are. Said another way, when reading English, I’m often required to remember what to say when I see the letters in a certain configuration; in Hebrew, competency in how to say the letter-vowel combination is mostly sufficient for accuracy in reading. Consider this; how many kids in Israel tell their parent excitedly about a new Hebrew word that they learned to read? This is something kids learning to read English do all the time.

Because of the letter-vowel system, the number of accurate fixations required for reading Hebrew is far more than the number required in English to extract the same meaning from the sentence. I would say that the requirement for visual efficiency when reading vowelized Hebrew, is much greater than that required for reading English.

Anyway, this is a topic that requires a level of consideration that is beyond something appropriate for this interview.

I believe that it is Profession Scheiman who comments; ” If all optometrists in the world were developmental optometrists, and the public understood fully, what we are able to do, there wouldn’t be enough optometrists in the world to satisfy the demand for our services.”

 Now that really gives us all something to aim for.

A great thanks to Dr. Lederman for taking the time to share his thoughts, and congratulations to he and all the award recipients of 2020, 2021, and 2022 who we will be celebrating in Columbus, Ohio in April of 2022.

Congratulations to the Israel COVD Chapter on their 2019 formation following the Annual Meeting in Kansas City, MO. Along with Robert Lederman FCOVD, we would like to recognize and thank the others on their Board of Directors, Kenneth Koslowe FCOVD and Avi Portnoy FCOVD.

It’s time to nominate some of the very most deserving members of Developmental Optometry for our awards. Award recipients are presented with their awards at the annual meeting each year. The 2022 Annual Meeting is being held April 5-9 in Columbus, Ohio. You do not need to be present to nominate or receive an award.

Click the name of the award to submit your nominations. The deadline for nominations is January 10, 2022. You must be a current member to submit award nominations. Be sure to renew.

The A.M. Skeffington Award is presented to the COVD Fellow who has made outstanding contributions to the optometric literature in the areas of vision therapy and vision development.

The G.N. Getman Award is presented to a developmentally-oriented optometrist with clinical expertise and application in office structure and professional activity. The recipient must demonstrate a personal and professional concern for all patients, especially children, which exceeds all else. 

The COVT of the Year Award is given to the COVT who has shown dedication to behavioral optometry and has demonstrated understanding and support for patients and their families.

The Making Vision Therapy Visible Award is given for outstanding contributions to public awareness of vision therapy and developmental vision care.

Registration for the 2022 Annual Meeting is now open. Please visit www.covd2022.org for the most updated course listings, events, and exhibitors to start planning your week now!