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What is an orthoptist?

Orthoptists are university-trained health professionals who specialise in the non-surgical treatment of eye disorders.

Orthoptists often specialise in children's vision and eye movement. An orthoptist can work out exactly what eye movement disorders and vision problems your child has, and the best way to treat them.

Why your child might see an orthoptist

If your ophthalmologist, GP or other health professional thinks your child might have vision impairment or an eye problem, they might send your child to an orthoptist.

An orthoptist can do more tests to work out what your child can see and whether:

  • your child's eyes are working well and moving properly together
  • the vision is reduced in one or both of your child's eyes (amblyopia)
  • your child has an eye muscle imbalance that's causing one eye to turn in or out compared to the other - this is often called a squint.

The orthoptist might also look at other areas of your child's vision, like how your child sees colours or distances. And the orthoptist might check your child's pupils and eye pressure to get a full picture of how your child sees the world.

After all this, the orthoptist can let you know what your child needs - for example, glasses, eye exercises or treatment for the eye or muscle problem.

If there's a problem with your child's eyes or vision, orthoptists can also help you with changing the environment to make things easier for your child. For example, you might need to change the lighting in your home or think about aids to help your child with learning or schooling.

Orthoptists can often give you ideas for helping your child learn, move, play and develop other skills.

In addition to ophthalmologists, orthoptists work closely with paediatricians and sometimes with neurologists. If your child has a vision impairment, she might also be seeing an orientation and mobility specialist.

You don't need a GP referral to see an orthoptist, but your GP is always a good place to start if you're worried about your child's health or development. Your GP or ophthalmologist can help you decide about seeing an orthoptist and help you find someone who's right for your child.

Before going to an orthoptist

If your GP or ophthalmologist refers your child to an orthoptist, it's a good idea to talk about the following things:

  • Why you're going to the orthoptist: ask why your child needs to see an orthoptist.
  • Waiting list: how long before you can get an appointment to see the orthoptist?
  • Is there anything you can do while you're waiting to get an appointment?
  • Making an appointment: it might take you more than one phone call to make an appointment.
  • Cost: how much will the appointment with the orthoptist cost? It might be expensive, so you could check whether you can get money back from Medicare, private health insurance, the Transport and Accident Commission (TAC) or Workcover or whether you can get some other kind of financial help.
  • Location: find out where you have to go to see the orthoptist - for example, a public or private hospital, or consulting rooms. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child's needs.

You might want to talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP or ophthalmologist before you go to the orthoptist. You could also ask the orthoptist's clinic when you make the appointment. It's a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don't forget.

When you go to the appointment, it's OK to ask the orthoptist to explain anything you don't understand about your child's eyes or vision.