A Sit Down – with Dr. Jennifer Dattolo
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 Dr. Jennifer Dattolo
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I am currently one of four optometrists at Roswell Eye Clinic in Roswell, Georgia, where I am involved in all aspects of patient care – from infants to the elderly, contact lenses, disease, and vision therapy. I also work with patients who have suffered acquired brain injury, whether from a sports related concussion, stroke, and work related or automobile accident. My undergraduate studies were at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, where I received a Bachelor of Science in 1996. In 2000, I graduated Pennsylvania College of Optometry with Honors in Pediatrics.
How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry and what led you to become a Developmental Optometrist?
Since the 4th grade, I knew I wanted to be an optometrist when I grew up. I was lucky enough to work as a technician for Drs. Sharon Berger and William Moscow (Roswell Eye Clinic) while at Oglethorpe. This is where I was first exposed to Developmental Optometry. I watched Dr. Berger work with children with special needs, developmental delays, learning related vision problems. I saw the changes which were made visually, as well as personally, and how those changes positively impacted their school performance and everyday lives. I knew then that Developmental Optometry was an area I wanted to work in. I have been doing so ever since.
You recently joined the ranks as a Board Member of COVD. Why was it important to you to serve this organization in a leadership capacity?
I have been a member of COVD since 2000 and have attended almost every meeting since then. I received my Fellowship in 2008, and was then approached to be a mentor for fellow candidates. I worked with 2 candidates for the next 2 years, and was then asked to become co-chair of the Road to Fellowship Committee. The following year, I was asked to run for a position as a director on the board. It was shocking to know that those I have looked up to within the organization knew who I was and saw potential in me as a leader. I was humbly elected to the board in 2011, and am currently in my 3rd year of serving as a director. I don’t think I ever saw myself being in a leadership role, especially for an organization like COVD. I was looking for ways to give back to the profession I love and enjoy, and being a member of the board seemed like the right way to do just that. COVD and its members impact so many people’s lives in such a positive way; I knew I wanted to be a bigger part of it. It is an honor to serve on the Board of Directors. It has made me grow both personally and professionally.
As part of your duties on the Board of Directors, you serve as the liaison to the Vision Therapist Committee and we are so excited to have you! What has your experience been like thus far and what might we look forward to?
I have been the liaison for a few months now and have had nothing but a positive experience thus far, and expect that will not change. The camaraderie I’ve seen between you all is amazing. I have been to the therapists gathering the past two COVD meetings and have had a great time at both. We cannot do what we do without our vision therapists. Therapists play an even bigger role in changing our patients’ lives because you are the ones working with them day in day out. I have the utmost respect for all vision therapists, and we are working to be sure you all know just how important you are to us.
What is the Tour de Optometry?
The Tour de Optometry was first initiated in 2005. Each year, board members and past Presidents visit every school of optometry to help students understand the importance of vision therapy, not only how to incorporate it into their respective practices, but to also know what signs to look for to be able to refer to someone who does offer VT if their practice does not. The Tour topic this year is “The Power of Developmental Vision Care”. We not only discuss our personal experiences in our offices, but also include videos of parents and patients so the students can see for themselves the impact of vision therapy.
What are your feelings on InfantSee?
I have been participating in the InfantSee Program since its inception. While I have not come across any infants with major problems, I have had a couple who have required glasses. These are children who potentially would have developed strabismus, amblyopia, and developmental delays, all because of uncorrected refractive error. This program is very important and I strongly believe in its purpose.
Switching gears a bit, the treatment of strabismus tends to be a polarized topic between Ophthalmology and Developmental Optometry, and one that seems to perpetually be in the forefront. Most Developmental Optometrists seem to view strabismus surgery as a valuable tool when done in conjunction with Vision Therapy, rather than the either/or conversation. Would you agree?
Absolutely. While surgery may make the eyes straight cosmetically, it does nothing for functionality. Most often, the strabismus patients I see have already had at least 1 surgery, and are now looking for other alternatives. If vision therapy was started before their first surgery, and implemented even more after, the need for multiple surgeries would greatly diminish. If the brain is taught how to use both eyes together and binocular skills are enhanced, it is less likely the eye turn will return in the future.
Many parents are told by other medical professions that denying strabismus surgery to their child will result in blindness of the affected eye as the child grows. Does that really happen?
Constant strabismus will lead to amblyopia, the degree of which varies depending upon any refractive error present. Correcting the strabismus surgically does not address the visual acuity. Vision therapy must be implemented to be sure vision is not lost permanently.
For the parents who will be reading, can you explain why some children are born with an eye turn and some develop a turn later in life?
It is common to see an eye turn in newborns, which should go away by 3 months of age. Reasons some children are born with strabismus include genetics, muscle abnormality, congenital cataracts, inappropriate development of the “fusion center” of the brain, and prematurity. When developed later in life, most are due to uncorrected farsightedness. However, organic causes must also be ruled out.
Assuming judicious Vision Therapy is carried out, is there a variation in efficacy between the child who is born with strabismus and a child who develops strabismus at 2 years old?
I believe vision therapy can be just as effective in either case, assuming there is no organic cause for the later onset eye turn. The fact that the 2 year old with recent onset has been binocular for most of his or her life definitely helps therapy progress faster. The likelihood of amblyopia in this child is also reduced. The child born with strabismus can still be helped with vision therapy. However, it may take longer to achieve the same end result.
At times, some may observe children wearing glasses and assume their vision is fully corrected when, in fact, the visual challenges may be a much deeper issue than glasses can address. When faced with this situation, how do you manage those assumptions?
I explain that vision is much more than 20/20, and just because a child is corrected to 20/20 with glasses, that does not mean his eyes are working together optimally. Eighty percent of learning is through the eyes. If tracking, binocular, visual motor, and visual perceptual skills are deficient, the child will have struggles with school work, reading, sports, etc.
Developmental Optometry, and by extension Vision Therapy, is a very powerful treatment modality producing positive results every day. If you could waive your magic wand, what changes would you make to improve our community even more?
I would love to have the stigma that vision therapy is experimental and doesn’t work removed from society. Having more MD’s, and even OD’s, realize the power of therapy and that we can work together to improve our patients’ lives would be amazing.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Dr. Dattolo for this interview! She definitely is another great reason Developmental Optometry is such a wonderful profession. Although we’ve only met once (and briefly at that), she did not hesitate to help promote Vision Therapy by agreeing to be interviewed. She truly is a class act! Please join me in wishing Dr. Datollo, her practice, and her family the absolute best! 🙂