Other Health Impairment: When Does Your Child With a Medical Diagnosis Need an IEP Instead of a 504?

Other Health Impairment is a disability category under the United States federal law, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Many parents are unaware that their children with chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome are eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Just having one or more of these diagnoses does not make a child eligible for special education; the disability must also adversely affect your child’s educational performance.

Many children have one or more of these diagnoses and function quite well at school and have no need for a specialized plan. In general, school personnel have worked hard to learn how to accommodate the needs of children with health impairments. Many children with health impairments are put on a Section 504 plan based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is not the same thing as an IEP. A 504 plan usually offers the child accommodations to help them be more successful in the general education setting. 504 plans may be adequate for many children with health impairments. However, there are three conditions that often markedly affect children’s educational performance; attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Tourette syndrome.

Many schools will put children with these three disorders on 504 plans first, rather than assessing them for special education. If your child only needs accommodations, then a 504 plan is great way to assist your child, with a health impairment, to be more successful and to not be discriminated against. If the 504 plan is working then there is no reason to look for alternative solutions. However, if your child is on a 504 plan and their behavior is not improving and you believe their educational performance is being significantly affected by their disability you may want to request a special education evaluation.

IEPs are much more comprehensive than 504 Plans. Accommodations are only one part of an IEP. IEPs also include annual goals and objectives tied to the core content standards and specific service delivery from special education teachers and/or related services personnel (such as Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists and Behavior Specialists). Although they are both based on United States federal laws with similar procedural safeguards, students who exhibit significant behaviors related to these disabilities are usually better served with an IEP. If your child does not qualify for an IEP, then a 504 Plan would be the next best thing. If you decide to request a special education evaluation, put it in writing. Each state has laws in effect pertaining to how long after the school district receives the request that they need to meet with you to have you sign permission for an evaluation to begin.