A Sit Down – with Karen Danoski COVT

This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.

A Sit Down – with Karen Danoski COVT  KD

For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry? 

I work for Gary J. Williams O.D., FCOVD in a primary care and Vision Therapy practice.  I have been a Vision Therapist for almost 10 years in Owego, N.Y., which was ranked as the Coolest Small Town in America by Budget Travel Magazine in 2009. I was not surprised by the ranking. Owego is a special community. In 2011, during a major flood, the citizens really banded together to help each other. I love working in Owego.

How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry?

Leeann Batten, COVT (retired) was a mutual friend and she would share stories of visual “recoveries” at gatherings.

You completed your COVT in 2011 after more than 7 years in the VT room seeing patients.  Since you were eligible after 2 years, why did you decide to take the extra time?

Two reasons: My children were approaching college. And, simply put, I feared the test. As a student, I was never a great test taker. Through a test, I would tire easily. I now know, however, that it was my vision causing this fatigue. But since participating in Vision Therapy, my own vision is better. And I imagine that helped me get through my COVT.

We share some common ground in that we both have been privileged to work alongside, and learn from, iconic Vision Therapists – you with Leann Batten and for me, Linda Sanet.  I’ve written many times how working with Linda was probably the single most influential time of my Vision Therapy career, both for learning the dynamics of vision and understanding how to become a quality therapist.  Do you have similar thoughts about Leeann?

I have often said, “I wish I could borrow Leeann’s brain!” She wasn’t just a therapist — she clearly got out of bed each day with a mission of helping people have the best vision they could. She had this uncanny ability to calm a storm and leave a patient embracing the positive, in any situation. She could challenge a patient on the highest level possible, and the patient would succeed. She could be found crawling around on the floor, under tables, chasing toy cars with a toddler, or kibitzing with an older adult suffering head trauma. In any situation, she seemed to know just what to do. She was great. She was not taught how to be amazing – it was just in her nature! Leeann had great role models within the office. Her mother was a Vision Therapist and the wife of the practice’s founding doctor, Mrs. Quick. When Leeann retired, she left some pretty big shoes to fill. But Irene M. Anderson COVT has jumped in with both feet. There will never be another Leeann but Irene is a nice compliment to Leeann’s teachings.

Completing your COVT was clearly a great moment for you, as it is for most Vision Therapists, and I was so happy to share in your celebration at the Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.  What advice would you offer to the up-and-coming crowd of therapists considering certification in the next year or two?

First, I would say, choose a mentor. Mentors are invaluable to helping you get through a difficult patch in your life. Next, read! The list of suggested materials in the candidate guide is very helpful. My favorite fun read was the Vision Therapist’s Tool Kit. Take advantage of the do it yourself experiments. Try them; practice them until you have a good understanding of the material. Also, be sure to come to the COVD Annual Meeting and attend The Road to COVT . You will get to see and listen to a re-enacted oral interview. Take as many classes as you can with your time and resources. Join others in the after hours camaraderie at the COVD Annual Meeting. It’s great to share your experiences with therapists and doctors, and you find so many varied experiences from participants. Therapists love listening to what others do in their clinic. Leeann was always willing to share her experiences and did it in a way such that we were continually learning. It’s terrific to learn about other visual health centers. For example, I shared in my niece’s Vision Therapy sessions at Dr. Jenna Williams McDermeds Visual Health and Learning Center in Orlando, Florida. Her center has a wonderful staff of therapists. My niece is usually very reserved, but she blossomed under Miss Kyndal’s care. And this summer, I had the great pleasure of visiting The Solution Center in Westerville, Ohio. Jessica Stevenson COVT graciously shared her ideas and patient sessions. (Jessie rocks!) So more advice here: If you have the opportunity, visit other offices to learn their techniques and how they present them. Many ideas have come to our office from COVD seminars and office visits that we have used to enhance patient care. And perhaps most important: Ask questions! Ask questions! Ask questions especially of your doctor and other therapists. You can’t learn without asking about what you don’t know! 

We have had several conversations in the past about the concept of “the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.”  For many, this sentiment is the mark of a great therapist as it symbolizes an insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding.  What are your thoughts on this?

When the time comes that I am no longer learning, I will know I am not of this earthly place. There are always interesting blogs to read, books to digest and patients to try to decipher. Almost daily, Dr. Williams provides us articles of educational value, as well as books he’s read (and nicely abridged!). He truly amazes me with his wealth of knowledge and his ability to apply it in the appropriate setting.

Formal education for Vision Therapists has come a long way over the last decade, and we still have a distance to travel. From the perspective of an experienced Vision Therapist who has already completed her COVT, where would you like to see our educational goals set for the next ten years?

Levels of certification: therapists like Linda Sanet, Leeann Batten and Diana Ludlam, to name a few, have certainly attained a wealth of knowledge about vision far above what I have yet acquired. Different levels of COVT certification would reflect this.

I’ve always admired the level of emotion you bring to, and take away from, your therapy room and how you will sometimes become misty eyed when describing a patient’s successes and failures.  This passion and compassion is not something that can be taught, and genuinely demonstrates your true dedication to your patients. Where does that dedication come from?

Without a doubt, it comes from my mother. My mother was a constant example of compassion. When I was growing up, our family eked by on just enough money, but she always found a way to give of herself and provide for us. She taught by example and never expected recognition.

KVD kids

My oldest child, Daniel, is the kind of kid who would try something once, learn and move on. Every parent needs one child like Daniel to practice parenting skills on. When my daughter Mara-Nicole was born, there were even more challenges, however. By age 3 weeks doctors told us that she had a possible tumor behind her optic nerve, and she was having chromosome testing for Downs syndrome. Various sensory disorders were soon discovered. By six months we were told she would never walk, talk, read or write. As you could imagine, I was devastated. But I knew my mother would never accept this diagnosis, so neither would I. At 10 months, Mara-Nicole underwent surgery that corrected her deafness, and she began to babble almost immediately afterward. Early interventions provided the added stimulus so she began to learn she had a left side. Being chimera has made her resilient. Now 21, Mara-Nicole has won national competitions as a tap, jazz, lyrical, pointe and contortion dancer! She has acted in a children’s television show and is now currently on the Dean’s list in a fast-track 6 ½ year doctorate program at Misericordia University. She has taught me to never say no to anything she can try safely. And to be frank, she inspires me.

A question many Vision Therapists are faced with is “why have I not heard of VT before now?” When a parent asks you, how do you answer?

I am pretty matter-of-fact, actually. I tell the parent that it is a specialty field within Optometry and I’m glad you have now found us. What are your concerns moving forward for your child?

In your experience, what can parents do to make sure Vision Therapy is a positive and successful experience for their child, and for themselves?

We ask parents what their child’s islands of competence are, and to let us use those to engage the child. We need them to let us “help you help your child” Let us be the “heavy” and tell us immediately if we need to change an activity you’ve been instructed to practice with your child. As a group, we need to support the child in accepting that he/she is the one that has to want change. In a conference, I recall a presenter saying, “You could be the smartest kid in your class, and no one knows it yet.” This sounded profound to me. So I have borrowed this on occasion. Trust really is key.

Your dad has been ill the last few years, which I know has been an emotional drain on your family.  During difficult times in my life, the VT room became a sanctuary of sorts, as I briefly escaped my own troubles while focusing on helping others.  Have you had the same experience?

In a way, yes. I look forward to getting up everyday and heading to work, knowing it will be a day of new challenges and, hopefully, new successes, even if some are on a small scale. When a child with Autism walks into your outstretched arm and wraps himself in it, hugging himself, you can’t help feeling like you are doing something special. I still become emotional thinking about that moment. When a patient can’t wait to share a special accomplishment from outside the office, it really helps your emotional state to focus on that person and block out your own troubles for a few hours.  Helping our patients think and feel positive about changes and improvements in their vision is a must. They cannot move forward in their journey if they do not understand where they have come from.

As for my father, he is a positive thinker and beat pancreatic cancer once. He was diagnosed with this cancer again recently, and he feels he can beat it again this time. With his positive energy and determination, I give cancer little chance against my dad.

Come October, COVD’s Annual Meeting is being held in Orlando and you’ve shared that you’ll be in attendance. What do you enjoy most about the meeting?

The hands on Vision Therapist seminars. I’m looking forward to all the new and renewed ideas we bring back to clinic. There will be so much to absorb and I cannot wait. Bigger than that is the camaraderie. Seeing and sharing with others who are like minded. That excitement when sharing, the only thing better is when your patient graduates successfully!

Some closing thoughts –  A special thanks to Karen for taking the time to be interviewed.  Karen and I met at a COVD Annual Meeting several years ago, and instantly became friends.  She continues to be a great inspiration to many Vision Therapists, and as friends go, her support and dedication to friendship is unparalleled. Committed to improving life around her, she is always happy to lend a hand, offer advice, or just listen if that is what’s needed. This was a very special interview for me, so please join me in wishing Karen, her family, and particularly her father, the very best! 🙂


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