A Week With The Geniuses Gathered at COVD 2023

For over four years, I have been passionately learning everything possible about vision therapy and strabismus. With each new person that I meet, book that I read or exercise that I try, I am filled with more excitement and wonder. This passion has filled my life with so much purpose and is the driving force behind everything that I do here at Strabismus Solutions.

Last week I was invited to attend the annual COVD (College of Vision Development) conference in Toronto, Canada to accept the “Making Vision Therapy Visible” award. The entire experience was surreal and left me feeling inspired and even more passionate about the work I am doing! I couldn’t stop smiling, being there was a dream come true to me and completely exceeded all expectations.

If you would like to know more about what I offer, check out some of my free resources and get started on your own journey. Who knows, maybe we can go together next year!

Since I couldn’t bring each of you with me, I thought I’d give a breakdown of some of my favorite highlights and biggest take-aways from the COVD 2023 conference.

  1. The Strabismus and Amblyopia Two Day Course
  2. The VTS4 HoloLens
  3. Becoming Best Friends with David Cook!
  4. Meeting The Greatest Minds of the Vision Therapy World
  5. Receiving the “Making Vision Therapy Visible” award

There were so many ah-ha moments that changed the way I look at strabismus and vision therapy and pretty much everything, and some of the highlights were big vision wins I experienced with the help of a bunch of experts all in one room.

I was so grateful to be able to attend with a fellow strabismus enthusiast, Denise Allen of the “Healing out Sight” podcast, we both geeked out over all the amazing parts of the conference and had a great time together!

The Strabismus and Amblyopia Two Day Course

Despite signing up for the wrong classes, I was able to make it into the Strabismus and Amblyopia two-day class taught by Dr Angela Peddle from Elite Vision Therapy Centre in Toronto, and Dr. Leanna Dudley from Denver Vision Therapy. The course was designed for optometrists and vision therapists so there was definitely material that was over my head, especially the section on prescribing the right lenses for amblyopia.

But for the most part, I learned so much! I learned the new theories and ideas about strabismus and amblyopia treatment, some great new exercises and techniques for doing those exercises and I got to be the test subject for a room full of eager optometrists.

Each time the class was supposed to “practice” a new technique or exercise, I was the grateful object lesson. They practiced looking at my retinas, observing my reflexes, testing out my prescription and trying to help me improve my stereo with a million tips and tricks on new and old exercises.

It was so fun! It was like a vision therapy appointment on steroids. Instead of having one amazing doctor and VT, I had an entire room full. And instead of 45 minutes, it went on for about 12 hours split between two days.

At one point during class, the lovely vision therapist sitting next to me reached over and gently took my arm and whispered, “do you think it’s maybe time for a break?” I don’t know how she knew, but she was right. She must have been watching my body language and was such an expert that she could just sense my brain dying.

Needless to say, by the end of day two, I was exhausted and my brain was fried. I felt like I couldn’t walk straight and had a difficult time forming sentences but of course I still went to the show floor and tried out a bunch more fun exercises in the exhibit hall. I cannot be stopped.

My biggest Take-Aways:

  • With strabismus and amblyopia, peripheral fusion with large targets is going to be more effective for treating amblyopia than red/green glasses techniques. Dr Dan was right all along!
  • Listen to Dr. Dan and Tracy if I want to have success, they are following all the right things and my disobedience has slowed down my progress.
  • There is SO much that can be done for people with nerve palsies, functional vision is a big deal and can be greatly improved, this is great news!
  • Anomalous Retinal Correspondance (ARC) is very tricky to work with and shouldn’t be messed with, focusing on peripheral fusion and functional vision is the key and usually the ARC never leaves. (sad truth, but I do hope to be the exception one day).

The VTS4 HoloLens

After the first two days of pure education, the excitement really began. The exhibit hall opened with around 30 different companies with different vision therapy tools, exercises, and more. Computer programs, virtual reality, syntonics, eye tracking, brain games and just everything that could make my dreams come true.

I was literally a kid in a candy store and was giddy with delight. Just ask anyone there. I was downright hyper and was talking a million miles an hour. I’m trying to not think about the multiple times I probably embarrassed myself, but didn’t notice because I was SO excited. Over the course of 3 days I was able to visit with almost everyone there and learn more about the latest and greatest in the vision therapy world. I will be working on reviews on each one over the next few weeks and months.

My absolute favorite booth was the VTS4 HoloLens. It is an augmented reality technology which basically means that you put on a headset and it projects holographic images into real space. As the user, you are able to see everyone and everything around you, but you can also see the different images and exercises from the device.

It wasn’t amazing at first, but luckily I was able to drag Dr. Dan away from his friends to come help me for a minute and that made a huge difference. He worked on getting the right settings, picked the right activities, and coached me and suddenly, I was seeing the magic.

I spent 20 minutes doing different activities that helped me coordinate my eyes together. By the end, I was getting enough visual stimulation that I figured out how to get the Brock string to work in the distance, which I NEVER have done. On the vergence activities where I normally score 1-2, I got to 23-24. It wasn’t just the numbers though, I was seeing depth. Real live depth and I was controlling it.

I finally took off the HoloLens to give Dr Dan a turn and I was dizzy and confused. Then out of nowhere appeared Dr. Bob Sanet. He is a big name in the vision therapy world, especially in strabismus treatment…they even made a cardboard cutout of him for pictures, and he was talking to me!

He put his arm around me to help steady me and turned me around to face the huge room. He started coaching me and cuing me to expand my peripheral, pointing out different targets to notice. Then suddenly the room went into stereo overdrive. I saw everything at once in such amazing detail. The space between booths, people and the glorious ceiling were suddenly connected by the space between them. Then the space behind me became apparent and I was having an in-body stereo experience that filled me from my head to my toes.

It was amazing and the greatest and I immediately asked if I could buy a HoloLens. The answer: no. Even if I got Dr. Dan to tell the owners he approves (which he probably wouldn’t), it costs $13,000! Daaaang. Maybe one day when I’m rich, but for now, I will just try to remember exactly what it felt and looked like and hope that he gets one for the office!

Becoming Best Friends with David Cook!

David Cook has been somewhat of a hero of mine for several years now. His book was a huge catalyst for success in my treatment and he understands strabismus like nobody else who writes about it.

In January of this year, long before I knew about getting the award, I set a goal to become best friends with David Cook and meet him in person. I had no idea how or when, but apparently manifesting works!

I emailed him ahead of time and asked if I could meet him and if he’d sign my book and he said yes.

When I saw him across the exhibit hall, I squealed and went completely into fan girl mode. I hurried over to him and exclaimed, “You’re David Cook! You are even more awesome in person! I love your hat, I love your shirt, you are the greatest!” (or something along those lines). He replied, “ah, you must be Melissa.”

We chatted for quite a while and then he asked to meet my Doc so I waved Dr. Dan over again (poor guy couldn’t get rid of his patient) and they chatted about all the smart optometrist things while I ran for my book. When I got back, they were strategizing and Dr. Cook actually did a cover test on me and gave a few ideas to Dr. Dan.

We ran into each other multiple times throughout the weekend at classes and I quickly became his groupie. Praising his book, clothes, hats, and general awesomeness and asking his opinions on all the things. He gave me a few impromptu vision therapy sessions and helped me solidify some peripheral concepts and best of all, we had a lot of fun joking around.

The weekend culminated with him finding me and asking me to dance at the banquet. It was so much fun and it is safe to say that we are now best friends and I look forward to meeting him again!

My husband just said it’s a good thing David Cook’s older or he’d be worried, that made me laugh and I responded that it was like hanging out with my dad (who is equally quirky and fun) for the weekend and I can’t wait for my husband to meet him one day too!

Meeting The Greatest Minds of the Vision Therapy World

From lecturers, to people sitting next to me in class, to friends I met at meals, there was one common thread: these people care and are passionate about making a difference in the world.

I came expecting there to be some pompous attitudes with all of the specialists, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It didn’t matter if it was the first year vision therapist or the expert doing it for 40 years, each was humble, excited about new ideas and incredibly kind and welcoming to me.

They offered advice to help with my situation, took my advice to use with their patients, thanked me for the work I’m doing (even though there are so many flaws), and wowed me with their genius.

I was completely lost in half the classes because the information was so technical and over my head and I watched as the class members took notes, asked questions, and discussed the concepts afterwards to get deeper understandings to apply to the clinical setting. This isn’t the fluff that some professionals try to make it out to be. It is science backed and more complicated than I ever imagined.

No wonder people aren’t successful doing it on their own!

Just becoming friends and chatting with these people was eye opening and a huge highlight of the week!

Receiving the “Making Vision Therapy Visible” Award

I didn’t even know this award existed. When they reached out saying I’d been nominated I was flabbergasted and more excited than I could handle. I was also a little confused. Who nominated me? Are there people actually following my story and reading my website and watching on instagram? I thought that my followers were people with strabismus, not doctors.

Throughout the week, many people reached out to tell me about a patient of theirs that found inspiration from my page or found vision therapy through my help. I was shocked. I knew I had sent out hundreds of emails and there had been a few people that had reached out over the years, but I never hear the end of the story and I’m not going to lie, it was SO fun to hear.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading this, if I’m actually helping people or making a difference. Going to the conference helped me see that for this small group of people, I am making a difference. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let it get to my head, but I am going to use that as a motivation on days when I need a little boost.

I learned that Dr. Joanna Carter from Insight Vision Therapy in Oregon was the person who nominated me. She has been cheering me on for years and has a patient with almost the exact same history as me, she even has four kids! I’ve since been able to connect with her and it has been so fun! I already loved Dr Jo, but I was able to see how genuinely she cares about others and especially her vision therapists. Joanna was so kind to me all week and even invited us to join her friends for dinner. It was a major highlight and so great to get to know her amazing staff!

I gave a short speech at the awards ceremony and then we had to run to the airport to catch a flight home and just like that, the week was over. You can check out the video on instagram.

I ended up alone on a flight staring out the window into the most miraculous clouds I’d ever seen. My vision was still in overdrive from the week of eye exercises and I was getting amazing depth. They were so real and palpable and just extended for infinity. As I watched the clouds, my eyes filled with tears as I reminisced on an amazing week, filled to the brim with gratitude.

Thank you to COVD for the amazing week that I will most definitely never forget.

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