A Sit Down – with Dr. Josiah Young
This post appears as part of my Sit Down series. Candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Dr. Josiah Young
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a little about your educational background, and how you are currently involved in Developmental Optometry?
I received my bachelor’s degree in biology from Earlham College. Then I went on to The Ohio State University College of Optometry for my doctorate. While I was there, I did a simultaneous master’s degree in vision science. While in school, I discovered that I had a high level of interest in vision therapy, sports vision, and the vision of children. This led me to bring vision therapy to the practice I joined when I got out of school.
Learn more about Dr. Young’s practice here.
Looking back, what led you to optometry?
I knew that I wanted to do something in the health sciences. My parents are both nurses, and I considered several areas including family medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy. My future wife, who was a friend of mine, was a babysitter for an optometrist couple in town. She introduced me to Drs. Mike and Kelly Raies from Portsmouth Vision Center in Portsmouth, Ohio. After meeting and talking with them, they were looking for some extra help in the office during the summer. Once I had the chance to work there and see how Mike and Kelly interacted with their patients – building relationships and friendships with the people they served, being a great part of their community – I was knew that Optometry was for me. Just the idea that you can get up every morning, go to work, and help your friends and neighbors appreciate the world through better vision was something that really loved and wanted to do myself someday. The senior doctor in the practice, Dr. Ray Carson, was still seeing patients well after her could have retired. Something he told me one day really stuck with me and was a great influence on pursuing optometry. I asked him, “Dr. Carson, why do you still come to work when you could be enjoying retirement?” He said, “Work? I haven’t worked a day in my life in this profession. Coming to work every day is fun for me!” That’s the moment I told myself, now THIS is what I want to do.
While attending The Ohio State University, you were involved in the research of tracking a pitched baseball, which led to further research. Can you explain?
As part of my master’s degree project, I studied how the eyes and head work together for gaze tracking. Specifically, I looked at how your gaze works when tracking a ball with a color/number system. There are a lot of systems that claim to improve your hitting. One such system involves watching a pitched ball with a color or number written on it and “training” yourself to call the number out when the ball is pitched. My research showed that people are much better at tracking a pitch when they are told specifically to “track the ball as best as you can”. When I gave subjects the task of calling out the color or number, the amount of error in tracking increased greatly. So it looks like “keep your eye on the ball” still puts your eyes in the best position to be able to make contact with the ball. This study was done under the direction of Nicklaus Fogt, OD, PhD, at OSU who has numerous follow-up studies on the subject.
Optometry offers its doctors many different avenues in which to specialize. Did you identify a preferred direction as a young optometrist?
I really enjoyed the pediatrics and binocular vision clinic at Ohio State. That was my favorite part of clinic. So seeing children in practice was something that I wanted to concentrate on. I do see patients of all ages, but I have a special interest in seeing children, vision therapy, and pediatric contact lens fitting. I often tell moms that ask about the eye exam for their kids that we play games, look at some pictures, shine a few lights, have some fun, and by the end of it, the child has had an eye exam. When I work with children, I get to kind of be a kid, which is really what I am anyway – just a big kid at heart.
InfantSEE is a wonderful program which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and as you know, InfantSEE offers free eye exams to babies before their first birthday. On average, nearly 12,000 babies are examined annually compliments of the InfantSEE program, with 1 in every 10 of those babies requiring follow-up of some sort. As a participating provider, how would you describe the importance of this program?
InfantSee is one of those programs where everybody wins. The barrier of cost has been eliminated for the parents, which encourages them to have their child’s eyes checked. The providers perform a service, which can potentially save the child’s life when conditions like Retinoblastoma can be caught early. We know that early detection and treatment of conditions like Amblyopia can help children to see better, which puts them on the path for proper learning and development during this critical period. This program is really the first step to lifelong healthy vision.
Was it difficult to become involved with InfantSEE?
It was not difficult at all. A friend of mine, Travis Storm, OD, who is an InfantSee provider in Columbus, OH, shared with me how easy it was to enroll. I naturally had questions about the exam procedure because I didn’t think I owned the right equipment to perform eye exams on infants. He reassured me that I had all the equipment I needed. After looking at the exam form, I decided that I could do it, and I enrolled right away.
Recently, one of your patients became a bit of an internet phenomenon as the 36 second clip of her trying on her first pair of glasses went viral. What can you tell us about Piper’s visual condition?
Piper has hyperopia outside the normal limits for an infant. So she works very hard to see clearly especially close to her face. Putting the glasses on her and relaxing her accommodation a little just helped put things into focus with much less effort. Her reaction was priceless seeing her mother’s face clearly.
What was your reaction the first time you viewed her video?
I was moved to tears when I first saw the video. I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly why I come to work every day. I was so full of joy after seeing her smile; I couldn’t help sharing the video with all of my friends either!
Late last week, the AOA reported that Piper’s video has been viewed over 30 million times and has been shown on over 400 different media outlets, including CNN. As her doctor, what is your sense on why her experience has become such a phenomenon?
You can’t plan for or fake a response as genuine as an infant smiling at her mother after seeing her clearly for what may have been the first time. It brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. Amidst a flurry of somewhat negative things in the media today, it’s so nice to be able to share a feel good story like this.
Your local news media also visited your office, correct?
Yes, the local CBS affiliate (LOCAL 12) came to the office and did a story about Baby Piper. Liz Bonis, the reporter, was great to work with and very professional. She took the time to talk with me and get a feel for not only the story of Piper but also the bigger picture of the importance of having children’s eyes examined before school. She even promoted InfantSee in the story, which I thought was great.
Since then, I have had phone interviews with the Cincinnati Enquirer, NBC, and most recently, Fox and ABC came to a press conference at FlipDaddy’s (the restaurant in the video, which is down the street from my office). FlipDaddy’s presented a gift to the InfantSEE program and our local area Lions Club chapter in Fort Thomas, KY on behalf of the family. My phone has been going non-stop with calls, emails and texts, and I am looking forward to my vacation next week. I think my wife is more than ready for me to put my phone down and have some family time.
See Dr. Young and Piper on their local news here.
One aspect of Piper’s story which was very interesting, and should be emphasized along with her visual success, is that her parents’ primary concern had to do with Piper’s lack of crawling at 10 months of age. Since the layperson may have a difficult time in understanding how crawling is connected to visual development, can you explain the relevancy of this concern in terms of your eye exam and plan of care?
What many people don’t realize is that vision is connected to the development of other systems as well. An infant needs to see clearly to take cues from her mother, to see where she is looking and learn how her mother reacts to world around her. An infant needs to see clearly to see people talking and find out how the lips move to say certain sounds and words, which helps with speech development. An infant needs to see clearly to navigate their world as they learn to crawl or walk. An infant needs to see clearly to be able to reach out and pick up objects and learn to manipulate them in her hands. There are so many facets of child development that are greatly impacted positively by having clear and single vision.
Please click here to take FlipDaddy’s challenge!
Piper’s video has also reminded us all of the importance of infant and children’s annual eye exams. With the new school year right around the corner, do you have any advice for parents who may be pondering if their child needs his or her eyes checked?
Whether you feel they need it or not, the only way to know if your child has a vision problem is to have their eyes examined by an eye doctor. But even if you missed the opportunity to have an InfantSEE exam, all children should have an eye exam before the enter school. I am fortunate to practice in Kentucky, where they have legislation that requires an eye exam to all children entering school. My office is extremely close to downtown Cincinnati, OH, but we’re on the Kentucky side of the river. It feels odd that I see so many children from Kentucky every year, but not nearly as many from Ohio. My hope is that every state will follow the direction of states like Kentucky that have passed this legislation, and that children everywhere will be given the opportunity to see clearly before going into school.
Last, but certainly not least, you have a beautiful family! Can you tell us about them?
I married my lovely wife, Elizabeth, while I was in optometry school at Ohio State. I couldn’t be where I am without her. She majored in elementary education and has a gift for teaching young children. I give her all the credit in the world for helping me understand child development from a teacher’s perspective, which has proved invaluable doing exams and working with so many kids and schools in the area. She has also given me two young boys, Emmett (4), and Isaac (23 mos). Emmett is a superhero and his brother is his sidekick. They keep me on my toes and make me proud every day. They probably don’t remember it, but they each had eye exams at 10 months. Emmett’s eye exam more than 3 years ago was the starting point for me to get comfortable with infant exams. After doing his exam, I realized not only how easy it was but also how fun and rewarding it could be to see very young patients.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Dr. Josiah Young for taking the time out for this interview. With the popularity of his work with Piper, he has energized so many into seeking vision care for their babies through great programs like InfantSEE. It has been a complete pleasure getting to know him! Please join me in wishing Dr. Josiah Young, his family, and of course, Piper, the absolute best! 🙂