Hello, everyone! 

I hope this day brings you sunshine – inside and out!  It’s been a busy week for me! 

I’ve been doing an extensive amount of research these past weeks about parent education on the topic of vision assessments.  Over the years, as I’ve become more and more involved in the vision arena, I’ve found that one of the most common questions, and an area of much confusion, is the one concerning the difference between Developmental Optometrists, Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?    And although I have the highest regard for each of the professions, I do stand my ground when it comes to substituting one for another.  Visual skills play such a key role in a child’s educational experience that I find myself wanting to share more and more information about the role that Developmental Optometrists play in the specialized assessment and remediation of those skills.  And I have found myself with plenty of opportunities to share this information as the majority of the children that I work with in my clinic are experiencing some sort of visual difficulty.  So, I thought that today, I would continue to spread the word about the differences, similarities and importance of each of the aforementioned eye specialists.

As I Googled my way through the Internet for more information for this blog, I came across a site called The Vision Help Blog.  I don’t know how I’d missed it before; but it is the product of a “group of leading Optometric vision specialists in the U.S. who serve to provide greater awareness and understanding of the science and best practices for training the visual brain.”  What’s that, you say?  Well, if you’ve been following any of my blogs or have taken a look at my Handwriting With Katherine website, you’ll remember that sight is our primary sense, the one through which we collect and make sense of the information from our environment.  According to Wise Geek, it is estimated that as much as half of our brain is involved in some way with vision.  “The parts of the brain that help us see objects and tell us what they are, are referred to collectively as the visual brain.”

                                                            Visual Brain

                                  (Photo Credit:  Journey Through The Cortex)                                                              

                                          This differs from the Visual Pathway.  

                                               (Photo Credit:  PositScience)


The eyes are actually a part of the brain and act as the sensory receptors that collect the light and transmit it to the brain for interpretation.  The eyes and their health obviously are very important players in vision.  However, vision doesn’t happen in the eyes.  It occurs in the brain.  It involves 17 skills, one of which is 20/20 eyesight.  These brain-centered skills impact upon our ability to learn in school, to learn a sport and, in general, to do most of what we do in our daily life.  Vision is a learned behavior, just like walking, and can be remediated if needed.  But, that remediation requires training in the field of vision. 

As a pediatric Occupational Therapist who also has extensive experience with the care of adults, I know that I have an important role in the rehabilitative process of clients who have lower extremity physical constraints.  However, I do not profess to be able to care for the area of expertise in which Physical Therapists are trained.  And as much as I consider Occupational Therapy to be a key facet in the remediation of feeding issues, I don’t wander off into the realm of expertise held by Speech and Language Specialists.  We all have been trained in the same basic anatomy and physiology and neurology; but we each have mastered the area of the human body in which our practice specializes.  This is much the same with optometrists, developmental optometrists and ophthalmologists.  Let me share with you some information that I gathered today. 

First, let me explain the difference between an Optometrist and a Developmental Optometrist.  That way, we can deal with the two eye care professionals that parents most commonly ask about – Developmental Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.  According to The Vision Therapy Center

·      An Optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry (OD) and is the primary health care professional for the eye.   They “examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures, as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.” 

·      A Developmental Optometrist performs those services as well.  However, the fundamental difference between the Developmental Optometrist and an Optometrist is that the Developmental Optometrist focuses on function – and the impact that a patient’s vision has on his ability to perform daily activities.  These skills include binocular vision, eye movements and depth perception.  Developmental Optometrists must complete two to three years of post-graduate training after they receive their optometric degree, as well as extensive clinicals, before they can sit for their national boards and be credentialed as Fellows in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (F.C.O.V.D).  Developmental Optometrists are skilled in the use of lenses, prisms and optometric vision therapy and “provide vision care based on the principle that vision can be developed and changed.”

Now, about the difference between Developmental Optometrists and Ophthalmologists: 

·      Patricia S. Lemer, M.Ed., NCC, put together some excellent descriptors that will help us to put this into perspective.  In her article, “Choosing an Eye Doctor,” she explains that although each of these” eye doctors examine and prescribe glasses, diagnose and treat eye disease, and can evaluate how well a person uses the eyes together,” they each have a specific role to play in the eye care field.  She shared an excerpt from the book, Buzzards to Bluebirds:  Improve Your Child’s Learning and Behavior in Six Weeks, that tells us that “the emphasis of ophthalmology is eye disease and eye surgery.”  That is their area of expertise.  The Vision Therapy Center tells us that “in general, ophthalmologists use medical and surgical methods to treat eye diseases and vision disorders.”

·      Remember what we said about Developmental Optometrists?  That they provide vision care BASED UPON THE PRINCIPLE THAT VISION CAN BE DEVELOPED AND CHANGED?  They work under the principle that “vision problems can have a profound effect on how we learn….and that many children who experience academic difficulty may have a visual dysfunction in addition to their primary reading or learning dysfunction.”   AND that “these conditions are treatable” with optometric vision therapy and lenses, prisms, filters and occlusion techniques.

 Just as Occupational, Speech and Physical therapists are healthcare professionals whose mission is to assist people in finding the highest level of independence possible in their lives, eye care professionals have the same goal.  However, as is the case with all medical professionals, we all have our own areas of expertise – and when you are choosing an eye doctor to assess and treat your child’s visual needs, it’s important to be knowledgeable about each of their roles. 

I hope that I’ve helped you to get a better “focus” on this topic.  I am always available by phone or email if you’d like to chat some more about it.  I look forward to your feedback, questions and comments.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope to SEE you again soon, 


Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.