A Sit Down – with Dr. Christine Allison
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. Christine Allison
For the benefit of our readers, can you detail your background and explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I attended Optometry School at SUNY, and we had an excellent background in pediatrics and vision therapy there. I had always enjoyed working with children, so when it came to deciding on what type of residency to do, Peds/VT was just a natural fit. I am originally from Illinois, so I returned to do my residency at ICO (Illinois College of Optometry), and then continued on as a Peds/BV faculty after my residency was completed.
What led you to Developmental Optometry?
Interestingly, I had never had an eye exam prior to entering Optometry school, so I, of course, had never heard of developmental optometry prior to my time at SUNY. I had so many great teachers and mentors in that area, that it peaked my interest. I also worked in Dr. Andrea Thau’s practice as an optometry student, which helped to increase my interest in this area of Optometry.
What led you to become a professor at ICO?
During my time as a resident at ICO, I enjoyed the variety that each day would bring. Sometimes I would see patients, sometimes I would teach in a lab, sometimes I would be involved in research- I enjoyed all aspects of my time and felt that it would be a perfect career option for me. When I took the job, I don’t think I expected to stay on more than a few years, but the longer I stayed, the more I enjoyed the overall variety and experiences that you get as a Professor.
Along with your duties as a professor, do you see patients in a private setting as well?
I have been working in a small private practice with a large Polish immigrant population since 1996. It keeps my skills sharp in treating anterior segment and contact lens, which I only do minimally at ICO. Prior to this practice, I worked part-time in another private practice where I did all the vision therapy with the patients myself.
Since you’ve lectured extensively within the topic of pediatric vision, I’d like to ask you a few questions in that area. First, can you explain your thoughts on the need for early detection and intervention with newborns and toddlers?
I am boggled by the fact that so few parents bring their children in for infant exams since the InfantSee program has done such a great job of getting the word out. I have 3 children, and as soon as my children had teeth, I was taking them to the dentist because that is what was recommended, yet adults just don’t think about vision care in the same way. I think optometry needs to do a better overall job of promoting themselves as the leaders in this area.
Questions often arise on the ideal age for Vision Therapy candidates. Many parents will ask if their two-year old is too young or if their teenager is too old. What are your thoughts?
I think the ideal age is 6 years and up through adulthood for most common therapy concerns. I will still work with children ages 3 – 5, but it does depend a lot on the child’s attentional abilities at those ages. Not every child at the age of 3 is a good candidate, but there are certainly some that do very well with a modified program. The key is determining what the parents’ expectations are, and how involved they will be throughout the process.
As someone who has experienced many facets of patient care, what advice would you offer new graduates looking to make their mark in Developmental Optometry?
I would tell them to attend the Annual COVD meeting, and talk to as many Optometrists there as possible. There is no better place to learn about developmental optometry than at the meeting. I would encourage them to find a mentor in this area of Optometry too, and to attend every study group and meeting that they can get to that works into their schedule.
With March being Brain Injury Awareness Month, what are your thoughts on the ‘Remove From Play’ protocols that many sports are implementing at all age levels?
It is fantastic that we finally have serious attention brought to this area. The Remove From Play guidelines look good, and the fact that the player can’t go in again the next day until cleared by a doctor make parents start to sit up and take notice.
Short of avoiding sports all together, is there something parents can do to protect their children from the possibility of a brain injury?
Teaching parents and coaches the signs and symptoms of concussive events is imperative to keeping children safe. Also, there just is no reason a child younger than high school age should be playing tackle football, or practicing heading the ball in soccer. The parents and coaches really need to understand the dangers, but sports are still fantastic for kids overall as a way to stay fit and let out steam. There just has to be a balance. I have daughters who are gymnasts and ice skaters- sure, they have fallen, but they have never had a concussive event. My son played flag football in Kindergarten, but by 2nd grade it was tackle- we pulled him from the program, there was just no need for a young boy to play tackle football at that age. He has found other sports that don’t put his body and brain at such a risk.
Aside from your duties in practice and the classroom, you also currently serve on COVD’s board of directors. Why was assuming this leadership responsibility important to you?
I love working on the COVD board, because COVD is such a wonderful, thriving organization. I feel like during my time on the board I have witnessed so many positive changes in the meetings and the organization as a whole. It is so refreshing to work with such talented people and to see the changes implemented so quickly.
Lastly, COVD’s next Annual Meeting is quickly approaching. Beyond your duties as a board member, what are some aspects of the meeting which you enjoy the most?
I love seeing friends, previous residents, and previous mentors at the meeting. Everyone always seems to be enjoying themselves, and it is so easy to talk to other docs and therapists to get new ideas. I always encourage my residents to go to the meeting, because unlike at other meetings, the attendees really want to converse and help you to solve patient problems.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Dr. Allison for taking the time out for this interview. Developmental Optometry is a wonderful profession because of the wonderful people in it, like Dr. Allison! Her compassion and dedication are evident and we are lucky to have her among us! Please join me in wishing Dr. Allison, her family and patients, the absolute best! 🙂