A Sit Down – with Melody Lay COVT
A Sit Down – with Melody Lay COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I practice vision therapy as a senior vision therapist at the Visual Health and Learning Center in Orlando, FL. The Visual Health and learning center operates under Dr. Jenna McDermed, FCOVD. We are a vision therapy only practice and benefit a continuing average of between 100-120 patients.
How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry?
When my oldest son was in second grade, he began to complain of visual symptoms. Dr. Katie Kimble-Wonch, a Developmental Optometrist in Mandeville, LA, examined him and discovered convergence insufficiency. Together, we embarked on a journey through vision therapy, a completely new experience for us. I asked Dr. Katie a million questions it seems, including the common, “Why have I never heard of vision therapy before,” question.
Therapy was not new to me. I practiced early intervention as a specialist for seven years working along side Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Speech and Language Pathologist’s. I had never, however, heard vision therapy mentioned. My son’s vision therapy regimen fascinated me so I hinted to Dr. Katie, who is a personal friend, that I would really enjoy learning the field of vision therapy. My curiosity, passion, and committed style made me a good candidate. She hired me to complete perceptual testing in her office. After a few months, a therapist left the office so Dr. Katie began training me to do therapy. After months of testing, the idea of therapy really excited me. Dr. Katie is a great teacher and mentor and I am fortunate she invested in me through Dr. Bob Sanet’s seminars. While in San Diego under Dr. Sanet, and continuing thereafter, my learning grew exponentially as I applied the therapy concepts I learned.
When my husband and I relocated to Orlando, I found The Visual Health and Learning Center and applied to become a therapist there. Over the last three years, Dr. McDermed has invested in my professional growth by encouraging me to pursue certification through COVD. For each of the past six years, my curiosity, passion, and commitment to helping people through vision therapy has grown. Each year, my love for the field grows, as my knowledge and practice become increasingly integrated.
As someone who has just completed the COVT process, can you describe your preparation in all three phases?
I prepared in a very straightforward manner based on the study guide provided by COVD. I set a personal goal to complete the process in one year, though COVD provides four years to complete certification. I was motivated by the fact that the COVD annual meeting was held in Orlando, so I knew it would be special if I completed the certification near home. It’s important to set personal goals when attempting a process to further professional improvement.
I attempted to answer the OBQ’s one at a time and in order. I researched the question’s topic and immediately wrote the paper in order to solidify my learning. Then, I asked Dr. McDermed and my COVD mentor to give me feedback. Once I received the feedback, I re-wrote the papers until I was satisfied with my answer. I found it challenging to condense my papers into just three pages, but found that the condensing process provided succinct learning. Once the questions were approved by Dr. McDermed and my COVD mentor, I submitted them to COVD for consideration. I continued this process until all the OBQ’s were approved by COVD.
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Jenna McDermed, Kyndal Solien OVT, Melody, and MIssy Cossu OVT
Next, I began to study for the written test. I read and researched the topics on the study guide until I felt confident in my understanding of them. Because I completed my written test and oral interview at COVD this year, I studied for the written test and oral interview questions simultaneously.
I prepared for the oral interview by combing over every comment and question the COVD reviewers had about my open book questions. I made sure I could answer each question thoroughly, but utilized my doctor and mentor to confirm my thoughts. I also met with a co-worker to practice the oral interview in the last few weeks prior to my interview. The process of study and oral practice continued to solidify my learning.
Since the COVT process is designed to be a process of learning, how would you qualify and quantify your learning as you progressed through certification?
The process of certification did indeed meet the goal of continued learning. When Dr. McDermed approached me with the opportunity for certification, I knew I would become a better provider for my patients. Though overwhelming at times, Dr. McDermed gave me a great gift throughout the process. She never gave me the answers, but rather challenged me to research and think about my answers until I achieved a deeper understanding of the topics. At times, her questions would challenge my assumptions. This provided the challenge I needed to find the answers. I’ve learned much, but achieving certification is not an end in itself, but rather a path to greater effectiveness for the benefit of those I serve. It has brought me to the place of continued learning and evaluation.
One question that seems to repeat itself among aspiring COVT’s is “what can I expect in the oral interview?” Having just gone through it, can you describe your experience?
The oral interview created the most anxiety in the process for me. To think about sitting in front of doctors who are accomplished in Developmental Optometry in order to converse about your new learning is quite intimidating. The interviewers, however, were very gracious and quickly set me at ease. This helped me express my thoughts well. Each question they asked me came from the feedback given on my OBQ’s. If you are prepared to give a thoughtful, developed answer to your comments, you will do great!
What advice would you offer anyone considering completing their COVT this year?
Go for it, and enjoy it! You will grow personally and professionally through the process. At the end of the journey you will feel and be more accomplished. Read daily, as there are great resources available. Also, choose a mentor wisely. Seek out one you connect with and learn from them. Let them challenge your assumptions as you go deeper in your understanding of Developmental Optometry and Vision Therapy.
Prior to becoming a Vision Therapist, you had a background working with very young children. Can you tell us about that?
Prior to vision therapy, I worked as an early intervention specialist in the state of Tennessee. I helped children birth to three years of age who had special needs or were at risk to develop special needs.
Wow, that sounds like really amazing work! Did you work out of an office? Were there home visits involved?
During my last semester at the University of Tennessee, I interned with Tennessee Infant Parent Service, and fell in love supporting and advocating for families and children. Early intervention’s goal includes visiting children in their natural environment. After graduating, I was hired and began conducting weekly home visits to families of children with special needs. A typical visit included working with the child, educating parents in early childhood development, and connecting them with support services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. After establishing with a family, I continued to serve them from diagnosis until the child turned three and entered the local school system.
In your experience, what can parents do to make sure Vision Therapy is a positive and successful experience for their child, and for themselves?
Parents have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on their child that can last a lifetime. First, parents need to have confidence that vision therapy can work for their child. This confidence is established through testing, diagnosis, education, and a treatment plan developed by Dr. McDermed. If parents continue to have questions or lack understanding about therapy, then I continue to educate and reinforce Dr. McDermed’s findings. I help parents understand that patients who have the greatest success in vision therapy have support, practice at home, and consistently show up for appointments. Because there is a correlation between parental support and treatment outcomes, I find that parents who don’t play an active role with their child’s therapy may or may not have great outcomes. As parents take up their role, I educate them to understand the balance between challenging and frustrating their child. Because their child has likely spent hours frustrated in the classroom, we ensure vision therapy isn’t a frustrating experience. One key to alleviating frustration is open communication between parents and therapists.
How would you describe yourself in the Vision Therapy room?
I tend to be patient, although I’m not so sure my family would agree! In my therapy room, however, I have an abundance of patience with my patients. 🙂 I love to have fun with my patients and watch them have fun as they practice and learn. I also enjoy advocating in the therapy room. From my days in early intervention to today, advocating for patient’s success is my privilege and passion.
As a former early interventionist, are there particular markers or signs of visual inadequacies that you might recommend others who work with that age group be aware of?
The Infant See Program is a critical tool for anyone working with children ages birth to three years. In addition, I encourage others look out for any strabismus and refer to a Developmental Optometrist. Since a large part of the foundation of an efficient visual system is motor, laying that foundation during early childhood is essential. Following through as needed with occupational therapy and/or physical therapy is critical during the early developing years.
Many people don’t know this about you, but you have three ten-year old boys plus a 14-year-old son. Has being the mother of 4 kids, including triplets, influenced your work as a Vision Therapist?
My children are amazing and they influence me everyday. They have already experienced their own sets of challenges. My oldest was born at twenty-seven weeks gestation. He weighed in at an amazing 2lbs 2oz…a mere 965 grams. He was the smallest baby I had ever seen. Apart from anything else, extremely premature birth has its own set of challenges. Now that he is taller than me and looks like a linebacker, those challenges are harder to see. His first year of life, however, was spent in various therapies. Thankfully, I had the connections at the time to get him great care. As he grew through his elementary years, a few learning difficulties challenged him. I know personally what it is like to have a frustrated child. I understand what it’s like to experience the struggle that comes with challenges. My kids inspire me to help others overcome their challenges. My compassion and advocacy for kids arises from the struggles I’ve been through in my own family. Now, my oldest is excelling in middle school and taking two advanced classes. As a parent, you advocate for your child and through that advocacy, you identify and empathize with other parents who release their child to you in vision therapy. They trust you, to make a difference in their lives.
At thirty-two and a half weeks gestation, my triplets began life with far greater advancement than our oldest. They had shorter NICU stays, but still spent time in different motor therapies throughout the first year of their lives. Even with the challenges triplets bring, things seemed pretty smooth until one of them was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that results in lifetime insulin dependency. Having your child diagnosed with a chronic disease devastates you. His diagnosis came just after I signed up to start the COVT process. During the five-day hospital stay, I questioned whether or not I would return to work, much less complete certification. But my son amazed me and we soon settled into a new reality managing Type I Diabetes. As a result, all of us have more compassion for others. Compassion is the greatest influence my children have on my profession. Because I’m confronted with our own sets of struggles, I “get it” when parents walk in feeling hopeless and helpless. I love giving others hope and help through vision therapy. It really does change lives!
COVD recently concluded another great Annual Meeting in Orlando, and completing your certification has to have been a personal highlight. Beyond your immediate success, what did you enjoy most about the meeting?
COVD provides an atmosphere that extends your therapy family beyond the walls of your daily office. I loved meeting other therapists who work in the trenches day after day. Even though we are far apart physically, it is apparent at COVD how close we are at heart. I am privileged to be part of this group of professionals. I’m already looking forward to next year in San Diego!
Some Closing Thoughts: A great thanks to Melody for completing this interview, and a BIG congratulations on her recent completion of her COVT. Please join me in wishing Melody and her family the absolute best! 🙂