We are excited to announce our new interview series, Member InSIGHTS, real conversations with members of COVD. In hopes of inspiring broader participation within the COVD family, our goal is to offer our readers some insight as to how our community members found COVD, what motivates them to deliver Vision Therapy, and to understand what being a part of the organization has meant to them.   

For our inaugural interview, we have chosen to check in with the current COVD President, Dr. Jennifer Dattolo, FCOVD. Dr. Dattolo is the owner of Eyes on Towne Lake in Woodstock, GA which serves all aspects of patient care – from infants to the elderly, contact lenses, disease, and vision therapy. She also serves patients who have suffered an acquired brain injury, whether from a sports-related concussion, stroke, work-related incident, or automobile accident. 

Dr. Dattolo completed her undergraduate studies at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, where she received a Bachelor of Science in 1996, and subsequently graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry with Honors in Pediatrics.

As a new graduate, what attracted you to COVD as an organization?

I was first attracted to COVD because I wanted to learn more about vision therapy.  I was working in a practice that offered VT and was involved in the therapy department.  COVD gave me the ability to expand my knowledge beyond what I had learned in school.  When I attended my first meeting, I was by myself and didn’t know anyone.  I was treated like I belonged from the moment I was there, being welcomed by doctors and therapists.  It truly felt like I was part of this huge family.  And that, along with member benefits like Locate a Doctor, practice management resources, and mentors, have kept me wanting to be a part of this organization for the past 20+ years.

You currently serve as the President of COVD. Why was it important for you to serve this organization in a leadership capacity?

My first volunteer position in COVD was as a co-chair to the Fellowship committee. I had just received my Fellowship, and wanted to help others through the process.  I learned that I enjoyed volunteering and helping COVD, so when asked if I would run for a seat on the BOD I did.  The members and education offered by COVD has helped to make me a better clinician for my patients.  It only felt right to give something back.  Being on the Board, and especially being President, has helped me grow in so many ways, both professionally and personally.  I strongly encourage anyone who wants to be a bigger part of the organization to go to the volunteer hub on the website and volunteer to be a member of a committee that interests you.  Even if you think you may have little to offer, you have much more than you think.  Trust me, I know from experience. This organization is for our members, and we can’t exist without you. But we also need you to help us grow.  And who knows, maybe volunteering for a committee will lead to being a future President.

In recent years, COVD has expanded its international reach with chapters in Canada, Israel, and Korea. What does that say about the strength and importance of the organization?

 We are an international organization, and the world needs to know about the amazing things we can do for our patients with vision therapy and rehabilitation.  The international chapters are doing amazing things in their respective countries, and more countries are on the path to becoming chapters as well.  The more international chapters we have, the stronger presence we will have across the globe, enabling our members to improve the lives of their patients, which is first and foremost in our mission.

Dr. Bill Smith and Dr. Jennifer Dattolo

What can you tell us about the Tour de Optometry?

The Tour de Optometry was started by Past President, Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, and receives funding every year from the Mountain States Congress. Each school year, the BOD travels to all the optometry schools to spread the word about VT and COVD.  Each school is different in the approach they take to teaching VT, binocular vision, and rehabilitation.  This is an opportunity for students who may not have exposure to VT to learn about what we do, and the impact VT has on our patients’ lives.  All students, faculty, and residents are invited to attend the presentation.  It’s wonderful to see so many students have an interest in doing vision therapy when they graduate.  Hopefully, the Tour will continue for many years to come.

In August we will celebrate Vision and Learning Month. What is the significance of this recognition and what can other optometric professionals do to help increase awareness?

Most kids go back to school in August/September.  Having August recognized as Children’s Vision and Learning Month helps to spread the word about the link between vision and learning, and the importance of having your child’s eyes checked before school starts.  I encourage all State Coordinators to reach out to their Governors asking for a signed proclamation every year.  This can then be shared on social media, not only by COVD but by our members as well.  The more we can do to promote the importance of good visual skills for optimal learning will help to lessen the number of children who are struggling.

On the Vision and Learning note, can you tell us some of the visual milestones you watch for as a Developmental Optometrist? 

One of the first things I ask parents is if their child crawled.  Crawling is so important for proper visual development.  When I see infants, I watch for their tracking abilities, are they able to follow my target, and are they starting to separate eye movements from head movements? Are they grasping for my equipment, can they converge to a near target, and are they bothered when I cover an eye?

Patients who have not hit developmental milestones can have symptoms of losing their place when reading, difficulty crossing midline, poor handwriting, double vision, poor focusing ability, headaches when reading, poor self-esteem, and many others.  The COVD Quality of Life questionnaire is an excellent tool to give to parents and patients to help determine if therapy is needed. 

Dr. Dattolo and her staff participating in Flipper Friday

Lastly, for parents or patients out there who may be unsure if they are suffering from a visual challenge, is there a place to gather more information or even ask questions?

The COVD website is a great resource for parents and patients.  The Quality of Life (QOL) survey can be filled out directly from the website and will let the parent/patient know if further testing is recommended they can be referred to a COVD member in their area for an evaluation. 

Another place to look might be the newly released NPC videos, which are available to the public on COVD’s YouTube channel. The videos do a nice job of explaining the importance of healthy vision development and how Developmental Optometry can help should a child struggle in school.

If you are a COVD Member and are interested in accessing the downloadable version of the videos, log in to your COVD account and navigate to the member resource center.

The 2022 COVD Board of Directors

Photo Credit: Sara Marie Photos