What is a Developmental Optometrist?

A Development Optometrist (also often called a Behavioral Optometrist or Functional Optometrist) specializes in behavioral optometry which is a specialty in the field of optometry that is concerned with how your eyes and visual system function and is interested in how your behavior affects vision or how your vision influences your behavior.

Optometrists check the physical condition and health of their patients' eyes as well as their acuity. In the case of children, a pediatrician or a school screening is often only checking distance acuity (ie 20/20, 20/40, 6/6) which is only part of the picture when evaluating the full visual process.

Developmental optometrists also perform standard eye exams but they also run additional tests to determine if their patients have developed the visual skills necessary to adequately perform tasks required in their daily lives, especially at work or school. Developmental optometrists are also specialists in the field of lazy eyes (amblyopia) and crossed (strabismus) or wandering eyes.

What training does a Developmental Optometrist have?

Developmental optometrists complete two to three years of post-graduate training after their optometric degree. This can include Residency programs that focus on vision therapy and rehabilitation or pediatrics. It can also include post-graduate curriculum provided by organizations such as the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEP). Once they've completed this additional education, many developmental optometrists also choose to go through a rigorous process and become board certified as Fellows in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). This process requires direct clinical experience, case studies, and written and oral examinations. If successful, they will then represent this board certification by using the initials FCOVD after their name. Similar certification is also available in Australia through the Australasian College of Behavioural Optometry (ACBO), in the UK through the British Association of Behavioural Optometrists (BABO), and in the area of Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation through the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA).

What does a Developmental Optometrist do?

As specialists in visual function, a developmental optometrist will evaluate the following areas:

  • Binocularity, or how the eyes interact with each other and how they transmit information to the brain. The doctor measures the eyes’ ability to aim together accurately in order to maintain single vision, and they check to make certain the eyes don’t slide out of alignment, such as with crossed or wandering eyes.
  • Oculomotility, or tracking. Developmental optometrists will also check their patients’ ability to control where they aim their eyes, such as the skill required for reading so we don't lose our place. They also make sure patients can follow a moving target smoothly and are able to make accurate eye jumps from one point to another.

  • Accommodation, or focusing. Developmental optometrists evaluate their patients’ ability to change their focus rapidly and smoothly when looking from distance to near and back again, such as from board to desk. In addition, developmental optometrists check to see if patients can maintain clear focus at near ranges for extended periods of time without blur or fatigue, such as required for reading small print.

  • Visual Perception. Developmental optometrists also run tests to determine if patients have developed the perceptual skills they need to understand and analyze what they see, checking skills such as visual memory, visual discrimination, visual closure, and visual figure-ground.

  • Visual Motor Integration, or eye-hand-body coordination. Finally, developmental optometrists run tests to see if patients’ visual systems are efficiently transmitting information to the body’s motor centers for good balance and coordination. This is especially important for young athletes.

Developmental optometrists often use lenses along with vision therapy in the treatment and care of their patients.

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