A Sit Down – with Lori Griffith 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 Lori Griffith COVT
For the benefit of our readers, explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
My involvement with Developmental Optometry is as chief Vision Therapist for Virginia Vision Therapy Centers Inc. My role at VVTC is to see the more difficult patients, as well as to train, coach, advise and mentor our team of therapists. There are nine therapists beside myself and I have trained all but one. We are a very dedicated team and my goal is to see them through to COVT. I developed a training guide and specific guidelines which includes a time frame, to help keep the training process moving so they can achieve their goal.
Working side by side with Dr. Davis in developing new protocols and training techniques is what I truly enjoy. Keeping our therapy program in line with new developments and findings has always interested me.
How did you first discover Developmental Optometry?
Like most, I had never heard of Vision Therapy. Who knew there were different optometrists? They were all the same to me. Approximately 9 years ago an acquaintance of mine was working as a therapist and she had mentioned that they were hiring. She felt sure that I would be good fit.
At that time we were both working part time at a learning farm, where she was able to see how I interacted with children of all ages. It was her passion that aroused my curiosity. A few days later, I found myself shadowing her for my first vision therapy session.
As a professional adult, you’ve traveled quite an interesting road, which eventually led to the Vision Therapy room. Can you tell us about it?
My back ground is in retail management, but like many New Yorkers, I found myself working on Wall Street. This fast pace/ high stress atmosphere meshed well with my life style as a young woman in New York. In 1991, I decided I wanted a change, so I moved to Virginia. From the heart of New York City to suburbia Virginia…Oh what a change! I remember sitting in a barber shop waiting for my friend when two men walked in. They were older gentlemen they sat down and started to talk about an auction that they attended a few days ago. Being from NY I thought car auction, real-estate, art maybe? No, they were talking cows!!
Actually, I had few friends here and they talked me into it. Upon my arrival in VA., I started a position with a government contractor which took me to Ft. Belvoir and eventually to work at the Pentagon. It was here that I was offered what I believed to be my dream job; working for the Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals. Unfortunately, this required a particular security clearance, which I didn’t have. News flash!! “DREAM JOB GOES ON HOLD”. They said it could take up to two years to get my clearance.
They say “When one door closes, another opens.” This is true in my case. While waiting for the security clearance to come through, I fell into a position as the Director for the Society of Government Travel Professionals. My responsibilities were to plan, coordinate and schedule conferences for its member in different parts of the country. Our members were hotels all across the country and SGTP played an intricate role in helping them land a government contract. You can imagine how the director of such an association would be treated when traveling – dream job number two! Unfortunately, dreams end way too soon. I left this position when I relocated to rural VA. Did I mention that I was looking for another change in my life? I found it! Suburbia to rural. Now you can guess how I ended up working on the learning farm, which led to me meeting the acquaintance, which led me here.
Oh yes, by the way, my clearance finally came through for dream job number one. I turned it down though… I told them I was a Vision Therapist and I’m living the dream.
You received your certification (COVT) in 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Can you share some of that experience with us?
My experience with getting certified was best described by my sister when she talked to me about having kids. She said “the emotional rollercoaster, discomfort and pain of delivery is soon forgotten and well worth it when you see the result.”
The experience is well worth the journey. The knowledge that you gain, the people you come in contact with drives you to become a better person. From researching the written questions, interacting with your mentor, to studying with coworkers and therapists, all these things compels you to become something more; something better. You become part of something greater. There are no words that could do justice to the feelings I had as I stood on the receiving line. Being congratulated and shaking hands with all the members of my new family is a memory that well not be easily forgotten.
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?
What stands out most about the COVT process is that the learning process for a COVT never stops. There are so many ideas, techniques, activities and people to assist you with the care you give to your patients. The abundance of resources seem endless and the quality of the information contained in them are practiced and as years go by revamped by some of the best in the field. As I progressed through the certification process, I became aware of all the different avenues available to assist me in giving the best possible care to my patients.
One question that seems to repeat itself among aspiring COVT’s is “what will the oral interview be like?” Can you share some of your memories from your oral interview?
This is the part many of us fret about. We put ourselves through so much, at least I know I did and so did my co-worker. Will we be able to retrieve and articulate the information under the pressure of the interview process? I am not sure if I want to share the fact that I paced the floor the night before, going over all my notes, as I did the prior night helping my coworker go over all her notes. I remember we paid an extra fee to the airlines because of the weight of the books we traveled with. We both had a copy of Applied Concepts that book alone cost a few dollars. The best advice I can give is take a moment to get your thoughts together and speak about what you know. The oral interview is based on your answers from the written questions. When you receive your questions back from COVD there are suggestions given, pay attention to those suggestions. You may find that they will ask you something similar in the interview.
As I was waiting in the “bull pen” in front of what I thought to be the lion’s den, my mind was blank. I was sure I knew nothing. Two young therapists come out and had that good feeling. The feeling that all is going to be OK. They made it. What do I do? I give them a big hug because I want some of that to rub off on me!
Well now it is my turn. The door opens in front of me and there stands the two doctors that will be asking me questions. That’s when I realized their big smiles were to help calm me down. So I took a deep breath and let the fun begin. They are truly there to see what you know and to help you through.
My take away advice is to enjoy it; it’s like your wedding. All the planning, all the stress and then it’s over in a blink of an eye.
In your experience, what can parents do to make sure Vision Therapy is a positive and successful experience for their child, and for themselves?
Home vision therapy training can be a grueling process for some families. Think about it, they came to us because of the homework wars and we give them more homework. I ask them to keep it fun. Use our home therapy as a break while they are doing their traditional homework. What child does not want to get away from the table and jump on the trampoline? They can jump as they are practicing their spelling or doing simple math problems. They can toss a ball and spell, do the infinity walk as they are memorizing information this activity is helpful in this area. Maybe do a little medicine ball juggle this activity is supposed to be a warm up before math instruction and the spin game a warm up before reading and also supports the vestibular system. Belly Breathing is a deep breathing technique we use in the office. What better time to lay on the floor together and practice this, especially just before or in the middle of a homework war. This will help calm both the child and parent. We may need to keep home therapy to a bare minimum until the child can handle more as they progress through Vision Therapy. Having other family members join in the fun can help the child become more engaged.
Families that are always on the go also find it hard to get home therapy in. Keeping an extra card such as the lifesaver card in the car can help. We also use the pipe and ball activity that can be done in the car. Directionality problems, have the child tell you what type of turn you just made while driving, or direct them to pass things at the dinner table with a specific hand. As they are brushing their teeth have them keep their eyes on themselves in the mirror but move their head in all directions. I can go on and on as I know you can. My point here is there are ways to help families be successful and have fun.
For parents who may be researching possible avenues to help their child, what are some good questions to ask the teacher at conference time, or anytime there might be a concern?
When I was in first grade I would fall asleep at my desk. What child falls asleep when they are amongst a group of their peers and at that young age? A child that is extremely visually fatigued. Here are a few questions I would ask a teacher:
Is my child showing any signs of visual fatigue, such as rubbing their eyes, covering one eye, daydreaming or putting their head on the desk?
Does my child become tired or restless during any subject?
Do they squint?
Are they taking a longer time then their classmates copying from the board?
Do they seem disorganized or lost when given instructions?
Do they lay their hand down when writing?
How is their writing?
Can they get their thoughts on paper?
Does my child have a behavior problem? Is this brought on by a specific subject or time of day?
As a Vision Therapist, is there a patient age range of patient that you enjoy working with most?
No, I can’t say there is a specific age I prefer, though I do enjoy getting involved in difficult cases. TBI, very fragile patients and patients with strabismus is usually my patient load.
How would you describe yourself in the Vision Therapy room?
Active. I believe a Vision Therapist must be up and moving at least 80% of the time. Even my fragile patients I keep moving as much as possible. Vision directs movement and I want to be sure they can take the skills they are building out there into the real world. Sitting at a desk and being able to hold the image on a vectogram is not the same as having the patient up and walking around the room and hold that same image. Laughter is a must, it is extremely important to make it fun. Laughter in the therapy room is contagious and it helps everyone it touches.
Earlier this year, your office hosted a CEU workshop as well, correct?
Yes this is the first time we hosted a seminar and it was both a learning experience and a success. Our practice submitted the seminar to Virginia Occupational Therapist Association (VOTA) for continuing education credits and we were approved for 6.5 contact hours. “Vision Related Learning Problems What Occupational Therapist Need to Know!” As you can tell by the title of the seminar it was geared toward OTs but open to all interested professionals. We provided information on vision, how vision impacts learning, and how to identify a vision problem.
Dr. Davis and Dr. Carlyle were our speakers and they also explained the role of the Developmental Optometrist in treating vision problems. I was pleasantly surprised that our audience – consisting of mostly OTs – was interested in knowing when to refer to a Developmental Optometrist. We also touched on how our roles as therapists are intertwined yet very different. Towards the end of the seminar two other therapists and myself demonstrated and explained quite a few activities we use in the therapy room and would also be safe for them to use. If you are a therapist and reading this you know how we love activities we can use. Everyone was up on trampolines, doing eye movement activities and we added medicine ball juggle for a visually lead gross motor activity. It was fun and I hope our practice does at least once a year.
Lastly, as we were organizing this interview, you shared some wonderful photos of your current home, which illustrate a spacious and serene setting in Virginia. Did growing up in a small house with a big family lead you to a more open setting as an adult?
We never thought of our home as small. The mornings could be a challenge since there were seven kids and only one bath room. As far as living on a farm, my dad always talked about working on a farm for a short time when he was young and how he loved it. Owning a farm was one of his dreams. Mom’s dream was the total opposite. She was a city girl through and through and she was not going to be “dropped in the middle of nowhere” as she put it.
My husband and I own a couple of properties and we rent the farm because it is perfect for our nine dogs, seven horses, Clifford, our pig and Karlita, our goat. The farm is a five hundred acre farm. We rent thirty acres of the five hundred acres, which gives our animals enough room to roam. The main house of the farm is a big beautiful stone home with a fire place in every room and extremely thick stone walls. It was built in 1855. The barn was built for prize winning bulls. Each stall is 16×16 and there are thirteen of them. That makes for a very large barn.
I never thought I would, but we live in a barn. It is a nice four bedroom apartment attached to the barn and is spacious enough for the two of us. We have a great view of the sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains from our front yard. So if you ever get down our way…Y’all just stop on by the Wing and a Prayer farm, grab yourself a lil’ somethin’ to eat and we’ll sit out front, do a lil’ sippin’ and watch the sunset. Did I mention I am originally from Brooklyn, New York?
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Lori for taking the time out for this interview. Her passion for her patients, her co-workers, her job and her family are clear. Developmental Optometry is lucky to have her on our side. Please join me in wishing Lori, her patients, her co-workers, and her family, the absolute best! 🙂