A Sit Down – with Debbie Killion 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 Debbie Killion COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I work for Michael Gallaway, OD in Marlton, NJ as his head therapist. I received my certification in 2007 in St Petersburg, FL
How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry?
I suppose I first heard about Developmental Optometry when I was ten. I was prescribed bifocals and had a few sessions of VT with a local optometrist before my parents learned, through an ophthalmologist’s second opinion, about the controversy surrounding vision therapy. This MD talked them into stopping my therapy and told them I didn’t need to wear glasses, even though I’m anisometropic. I often wonder how that shy clumsy girl’s life could have been different if allowed to continue VT-maybe I wouldn’t have spilled so many glasses of milk, been able to swing and actually hit a tennis ball, or perhaps developed more confidence? I think this is the reason I can relate to so many of my patients and why I see myself in them.
It wasn’t until later that I learned more about Developmental Optometry. I taught first grade for about five years, before taking a long break from teaching to be a stay-at-home-mom and raise my three children. Eighteen years later I rejoined the workforce. I applied for a position in an optometry office that was hiring teachers, and the rest is history.
Since entering the world of Vision Therapy, who has been your greatest influence?
My boss Dr. Michael Gallaway. He’s not only helped thousands of people through his optometry practice, but he’s a professor at PCO at SALUS and participates in research as well. He’s a great teacher who has spent hours patiently answering my questions and strengthening my VT knowledge through lectures. I think if he had to review AC one more time during my certification process, his head might have exploded, but he never made me feel stupid about having to ask him over and over again. Patients light-up when Dr. Gallaway walks into the VT room-he knows how to teach and motivate them, all while having fun. He’s encouraged me to explore ways to develop better VT procedures than exist now. For example handwriting is no longer taught in our area schools therefore we’ve found many of our patients come in with inadequate grips, illegible handwriting and poor VMI. He guided and inspired me to develop a handwriting program that we now use in our office. He’s given me opportunities and encouragement to grow outside of the traditional role of vision therapist, which has included participating in research projects, designing our new offices, and becoming webmaster of our new website – which incidentally my kids think is hilarious.
Wow! Can you tell us about the research?
I had never participated in research before and I find it extremely challenging as well as rewarding. I am the Site Coordinator for Dr. Gallaway’s PEDIG Research Studies. The Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group (PEDIG) is a collaborative network dedicated to facilitating multicenter clinical research in strabismus, amblyopia and other eye disorders that affect children. The National Eye Institute (NEI) was formed in 1997 and funds the network. The NEI is a part of the National Institutes of Health, which is the branch of government that funds medical research. There are currently over 100 participating sites (offices) with over 200 pediatric ophthalmologists and pediatric optometrists in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom participating in the network.
Although we’ve participated in amblyopia research in the past such as Augmenting Atropine Treatment for Amblyopia (ATS16) and Increasing Patching for Amblyopia (ATS15), these studies have concluded. We’re excited about starting the next amblyopia study, which will research binocular computer activities for the treatment of amblyopia.
We are currently participating in the CITS (Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Study) Research Study, and Dr. Mitchell Scheiman is one of the Protocol Chairs. Our research patients are randomized into one of three groups:
- Computer-based Therapy – which is active home-based computer vergence/accommodative therapy plus placebo yoked prism flipper therapy,
- Near Target Push-ups – which is active near target push-ups plus placebo home-based computer vergence/accommodative therapy,
- Placebo Therapy – which is placebo home-based computer vergence/accommodative therapy plus placebo yoked prism flipper therapy.
In addition, I helped Dr. Gallaway conduct research for a study to detect both routine vision problems and visual skill problems through school screenings. The study compared the VERA (Visual Efficiency Rating) visual skills screening with the optometric assessment of binocular, accommodative, and ocular motor skills.
Most of us have one patient that will always stand out in our memory as someone who taught us as much as we taught them. Do you have a similar experience?
I can’t say I’ve had only one. I’ve had many touch my life to yield new perspectives. I continue to be included in many of my patients’ lives and enjoy being invited to their recitals, graduations, and milestone birthdays. From the six-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, the eight-year- old autistic twin brothers, the teenager with Tourette’s syndrome, the adults with ABI who want to enjoy reading again-I’ve learned from every one. The common denominator to their growth and success is tenacity-never give up.
Where does your compassion come from?
My parents encouraged my brother and me to embrace the Golden Rule and always have tolerance, consideration and compassion toward others. Probably the most challenging place I’ve had to show compassion was in my teaching experience. I taught in, what is now, an Abbott district (low income) in rural southern New Jersey. Each year I had between 32 and 38 first graders in my classroom – with no aide. Many grew up in deplorable conditions-cardboard for windows, had no shoes so they wore their father’s, went trick-or-treating in bars for money, only meal they had each day was their free lunch, one girl slept in a chicken coop, some children weren’t able to sleep at night because their parents were drug addicts and partying all night. I’d bring in Cheerios and milk for the students who didn’t get breakfast at home and organized clothing/shoe drives. Even though some of my students came in dirty, fell asleep during class, didn’t do their homework, had angry outbursts in the classroom-I tried to treat them all with respect and understanding. You can never know what another person is going through.
Since completing your own certification, you have mentored many other Vision Therapists on their quest for certification. What has that experience been like?
For the most part it’s been fantastic and I enjoy it-I’ve met many wonderful therapists. I’ve learned a ton from them and gotten new therapy ideas too.
However the Mentorship Program is not without it’s challenges. Sometimes mentors and candidates relationships don’t thrive because of different learning and/or teaching styles. When that happens, I explore why the union didn’t work and find a more appropriate fit. I think it’s important for candidates to understand that mentoring them through the certification process is a two-way street. It’s a mentor’s job to guide our mentees without doing their work for them. There should be a mutual respect and responsibility on both parties’ parts to commit to the process. Candidates need to honor their mentor’s time and the effort it takes. It’s really up to the mentee to drive the process – it’s their curiosity, passion and desire to learn that determines the pace and the outcome. The certification process is meant to “encourage growth in a collegial environment.” If a mentee expects to sit back and be taught, that’s not the process. It’s about the involvement and participation through in-depth exploration which leads to understanding and growth. If OBQ’s are submitted to mentors within only a few days of the due date, that doesn’t leave much time to learn or have the process work the way it was designed. Candidates only get back what they put in.
As the current Chair of the Mentor Committee for Vision Therapists, what advice would you offer COVT’s considering becoming mentors?
Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
I encourage COVTs to give mentoring a try. You can:
- Strengthen the knowledge you already have
- Learn a new skill you don’t possess
- Sharpen your VT skills
- Pay it forward
- Have a chance to share your passion with others.
Just think-you may end up with more than a mentee-you could end up with a friend for life! If needed, I’m here to help you. I get late night calls from mentors asking for advice and emails asking for help with OBQs and rewrites. We have 21 mentors worldwide who are very supportive of one another so; don’t feel you will have to go through it alone.
Along the same lines, what advice would you offer Vision Therapists considering enrollment in the certification (COVT) process?
- Firstly I say: JUST DO IT! Before I started the certification process, I joined a study group hosted by Jess Zwilling. Even though I wasn’t going through the process at the time, she encouraged me to answer the ten OBQs in order to learn more, which was great advice! Join a study group, attend seminars, VT101/201 and AC courses, visit other practices, read, read, and read some more…especially Linda Sanet!
- Secondly I encourage them to get a mentor early in the process. My mentor was Leeann Batten and I still count her as one of my friends today. Certification, although daunting, is a rewarding experience especially when you have someone to help you navigate through it.
- Thirdly, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” so remember that you have four years to go through the process-you do not need to finish in just one year. Be sure to download the Candidate Guide at covd.org. Dr Suchoff did an amazing job reworking the entire process, including the Guide. Everything you need to know about certification can be found in this Guide.
- Lastly, use Winnie the Pooh’s advice as your inspiration:
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Keep that in mind, go ahead and try, you can do it!
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 acknowledge that it seems that VT is not widely known, but it’s actually been around over 80 years and we continue to promote it to get the word out. I point to the CITT research study hanging on the bulletin board in our office and state that there are studies to back up the efficacy of VT. I suggest that what matters most is the fact they found Dr. Gallaway and are here now helping to make reading easier for their child. That’s the best gift they can give their 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?
Parents need to make vision therapy and the weekly appointments a priority as well as approach it with a positive attitude. One of the keys is consistency with VT homework. Be sure your child is well fed, maybe start with a nutritious snack and be well rested before starting. Perform homework at a table in a well-lit room without distractions-make sure electronic devices are off. If compliance is an issue, engage your child and make the homework fun, you can use positive reinforcement and behavior modification techniques. If, for example, your child is contrary about completing HTS, you can participate by counting aloud the number of correct responses in a row; keep track of the most correct in a row they’ve gotten and keep a score sheet. Most children love the competition and parents can make a big deal with each high score achieved! After about six to eight VT visits, most parents start to see changes in their children – reading becomes easier and homework takes less time with less struggle. We keep track of symptoms before, during and after VT and point these out to parents/patients so they are aware of their improvement all along in the process.
You and I have both been through difficult times in our personal lives over the last few years, and during those times, my VT room became a sanctuary of sorts as it allowed me to briefly escape my own challenges while focusing on helping others. Have you had the same experience?
Absolutely! During my more challenging times I always looked forward to coming in to see my patients. We have the greatest job, don’t we Robert? We get to play games, blow bubbles, tell corny jokes, laugh, help people feel and perform better! The time flies by each day, kids do say the darndest things and they have their own unique perspective on life.
Many people interviewed here before you have shared that the Developmental Optometry community feels like a family, and as families go, when one of our own is missing it does not go unnoticed. How important is that sense of community, that sense of family, to our collective success?
Although for the most part, we work in our vision therapy rooms alone, the sense of community that’s fostered through Annual Meetings, seminars, VT Listserv, and your blog keeps us bound together. One of the things that amazes me is how much is shared by therapists. I can’t think of another profession where ideas are given out so freely. COVTs Linda Sanet, Tom Headline and Vicki Bedes routinely contribute creative procedures from their years of experience. Their ideas are widely distributed throughout the VT community, so when we get together at a meeting it seems we’ve all been practicing together forever.
Last October, our mutual friend and fellow Vision Therapist, Robin Vreeland, was unable to attend COVD’s Annual Meeting as she battled serious illness at home. Thankfully, Robin is on the mend and is doing much better these days. As one of Robin’s friends and colleagues, what can you share about her?
I met Robin at the first Annual Meeting I attended. She has so much energy, spirit, she knows how to get things done and has fun doing it! Every time I hear the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams I think of Robin. She’s one of the friendliest people I know! She ran the Vision Therapist Breakfast and had goodie bags for every participant plus door prizes, which she solicited and gathered from VT vendors. She even went out of her way to make sure that every prize was wrapped. That year many more therapists showed up than had signed up, but that didn’t faze Robin a bit. She thinks quick on her feet-she divvied up goodie bags to make sure everyone received one. She also volunteers in her local community – she puts others before herself. We are lucky to have her as a part of our VT family!
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to my friend Deb Killion for this interview. As a leader of the Vision Therapist’s Mentor Committee, Deb often offers much needed support and guidance. Her skills as a Vision Therapist are surpassed only by her compassion for her patients and her friends. We are SO lucky to have her in Developmental Optometry. Please join me in wishing Deb Killion COVT the absolute best! 🙂