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The word orthoptics derives from the the Greek words orthos, which means straight, and optikos, which relates to sight. Opthoptics is a specialty of ophthalmology that focuses on treating patients' eye disorders, ensuring that eyes work together for correct vision. The field of orthoptics has origins in the 19th century. Louis Émile Javal, a French ophthalmologist, treated the eye condition strabismus, also known as wandering eye, by using ocular exercises. In 1895, British optician A.W. Hawes created an ophthalmologic instrument that could be used to treat binocular vision disorders. Called the Worth amblyoscope, Hawes developed this device to treat one of his patients who had a squint.

The orthoptics field continued to grow in the 20th century. Mary Maddox is considered by many to be among the first documented orthoptists. She was trained by her father, ophthalmologist Ernest Maddox, and she opened the first training school for orthoptics (nicknamed the "Squint Department") in 1929 in London, England. Other orthoptics clinics opened in the years to follow. The orthoptics profession also grew in the United States in the 1900s. In 1940, the American Association of Certified Orthoptists was established, providing education, standards, and career support for certified orthoptists. The organization continues to be dedicated to caring for patients with strabismus and binocular vision disorders.

Orthoptists today continue to focus on evaluating patients' eye movements and binocular vision. The types of disorders they treat include strabismus, diplopia (double vision), amblyopia (lazy eye), cranial nerve palsies (eye muscle palsies), drifting or crossed eyes, and eye-movement disorders.

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