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Homemievents2021 ACBO National Conference: An International Hybrid Event

2021 ACBO National Conference: An International Hybrid Event

Although COVID-19 interfered with plans for the 2021 National Conference of the Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (NACBO), nothing could stop this annual conference from going ahead. Described as “absolutely fantastic”, “thought provoking” and “extremely well organised”, delegates from around the world were unanimously impressed with the quality of take-home messages and ideas imparted.

NACBO 2021 was attended online, over three days from 9 – 11 July, by 127 optometrists and vision therapists from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the United States.

Michael Smith… provided an extensive exposition on applying theories of movement science, schema theory, neuroplasticity, and motor learning to visually directed action during vision therapy (VT) and in the classroom

From top: Dr Paul Harris presenting from the United States; Liz Wason presenting from Australia, and Dr Pilar Vergara
presenting from Spain.

What was planned as a hybrid event, with people attending at the QT Hotel on the Gold Coast while families holidayed, and others watching online, became a virtual event for delegates in Australia. Meanwhile in New Zealand, attendees congregated to enjoy the conference and socialise in two groups in the north and south islands.

The education program comprised a blend of short and extended presentations, on a diverse range of optometric areas of knowledge and practice, as reviewed here.


Christine Nearchou, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Leader in Paediatrics and Binocular Vision in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences of the University of Melbourne, provided an extensive evidence-based review of the role of vision function and perception in learning, and addressed the question as to whether we should be routinely assessing visual information processing skills in paediatric optometry. Ms Nearchou also presented her research on the Dot Pattern Visual Cognition task for assessment of visual sequencing, and visualisation aptitude in elementary school children.

Michael Smith, together with eminent international physical therapist Vicky Graham, provided an extensive exposition on applying theories of movement science, schema theory, neuroplasticity, and motor learning to visually directed action during vision therapy (VT) and in the classroom. They also detailed aspects of the virtual practice of specific communication skills, such as verbal and tactile cues to engage subconscious motor systems, and avoid overwhelming young children.

Renowned US optometric educator Dr Robert Sanet and his colleague Dr Pilar Vergara presented from Spain on the theoretical and clinical aspects of treating amblyopia, especially for children and teenagers who have plateaued in improvement, or who had poor compliance. Their treatment paradigm concentrated on the improvement of binocular vision using variations of prescribing to reduce suppression and improve stereopsis, combined with binocular vision therapy where necessary, without the need for patching.

This treatment paradigm has produced excellent results of equal normal acuities and fine stereopsis in over 100 patients after just a few months of treatment. The results are being collated and prepared for publication.


Perth optometrist Liz Wason detailed protocols for optometric assessment and management of patients presenting for vision care who are suffering from balance and vertigo issues. She detailed the interactions between vestibular and vision functions, appropriate tests for determining visual involvement in balance problems, and possible options for treatment of visual issues to reduce balance or vertigo symptoms.

Dr Paul Harris from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis presented his College’s development of initiatives from the Universities of Melbourne and Auckland Optometry departments. The first project further validated the Melbourne Rapid Fields (MRF) against the Humphrey Field Analyser in a normal population, then validated an MRF Tablet that can be used for in-office purposes, as well as a new homebased version. The second research project was to validate the first automated version of Optokinetic nystagmus tests (OKN) by Objective Acuity, a New Zealand based company. The College compared OKN visual acuity (VA) to other VA measures. The new technology can be applied to assess VA in non-verbal populations.

The Brien Holden Vision Institute is a partner of ACBO, and provides an annual review of the current research and optometric assessment and management of myopia. Rebecca Weng extensively detailed the latest evidence of visual, environmental and family factors in the development and progression of myopia. In particular Ms Weng detailed the evolving understanding of pre-myopia, and the need to manage accommodative and binocular vision aspects of children who are developing or progressing myopia.

Steve Leslie provided an excellent review of the latest instruments and computer programs for evaluating and treating binocular vision and eye movement dysfunctions.

This treatment paradigm has produced excellent results of equal normal acuities and fine stereopsis in over 100 patients after just a few months of treatment


Melbourne optometrist Bev Sacho provided an extensive update on the relationship of nutrition, particularly the gut microbiome, to brain function and vision; and detailed recommendations for optometric history and assessment of patients to establish possible connections between patient signs and symptoms, with nutrition and the gut biome.

Optometrist David Evian presented cases of patients with mental health issues, whose significant visual symptoms and light sensitivity were ameliorated by carefully chosen chromatic filters.


Conference participants enjoyed a number of opportunities to socialise online during the conference breaks, including at a social drinks session where people wore Australian or New Zealand outfits, with a prize for best costume awarded by Sascha Sergejew from Cr Surfacing, ACBO’s platinum sponsor. Over AU$2,000 was raised for the Susan Larter Vision Trust during the Zoom social sessions, with raffles for prizes donated by sponsors, and an online auction of aged wines generously donated by ACBO sponsor BOC’s Tony Cosentino.


ACBO’s annual general meeting was held online during the conference, enabling the College’s many current initiatives to be presented, and the new Board, as previously elected by ACBO’s 450 members, to be announced. The new Board comprises:

Melissa Allen – President; Carolyn McIlvin – Vice President; Evan Brown – immediate past President; Niall McCormack – Member; Kevin O’Brien – Treasurer; Lisa Bakker – Secretary; and Fernando Lamas – Member Representative.


Although NACBO attendees missed out on the joy of catching up with colleagues and friends over coffee in the conference sponsors’ trade display area, or over a glass of beer or wine after a day’s education, the quality of education, combined with the seamless online delivery, and the opportunity to swap notes on life and optometry with colleagues on Zoom, made NACBO 2021 a very enjoyable and educational success. This was evidenced by many comments received, including:

“Absolutely fantastic conference! Thank you to everyone for all the hard work and thought provoking content! I look forward to NACBO next year (hopefully in person).” 

“Thank you to all the speakers and sponsors and ACBO for a wonderful conference. It was extremely well organised. Thanks again!” 

“Thank you to everyone involved, it has been an amazing conference under the circumstances. So many take-home messages and ideas.” 

We look forward to a live National ACBO conference in 2022!

Hero images: From left: Dr Pilar Vergara (Spain) and Dr Robert Sanet (USA) answer NACBO attendee questions live, moderated by Steve Leslie.


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