A helpful approach to distinguishing these two terms is to think of vision therapy as the umbrella term for a treatment program that develops, restores, or enhances multiple areas of visual function and performance. Whereas orthoptics is just one component under this umbrella that addresses the mechanics of eye movements.
Vision therapy is the broader category that actually developed out of orthoptics. The definition of orthoptics is the straightening of the eyes and is limited to activities that focus on eye coordination deficits. So while orthoptics may be addressed within a vision therapy treatment program, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Other visual skills that can be effectively treated as part of a vision therapy program include: pursuits and saccades, visual-vestibular integration, visual perception, eye-hand coordination, accommodative therapy, visual attention, peripheral awareness, visual-spatial awareness, and visual-auditory integration.
Effective vision therapy programs consist of weekly in-office treatment sessions under the supervision of a developmental optometrist. This allows the use of specialized equipment to be incorporated into the patient’s treatment plan, such as therapeutic lenses and prisms, which play a powerful role in producing long lasting automated changes to the visual system. One final important clarification to make is that vision therapy does not work to strengthen eye muscles. Rather, the activities used in vision therapy target the brain’s ability to coordinate eye movements, process visual information, and respond to visual demands.