The term "other health impairment" (OHI) refers to physical or mental impairments that can affect a child’s performance at school. The term is usually used in association with drawing up an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), or a 504 Education Plan, for a student in a public school setting. An IEP or 504 may also be made for children in private schools, but private schools are not required to modify curriculum or services for a child with such an impairment.
An OHI is part of a general group of health issues that can have an impact on student performance. A child with significant asthma might be considered to have such an impairment, as can children with ADD or ADHD. In addition, those suffering from heart defects, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, or severe diabetes may suffer from poor performance in a public school setting. Other conditions that fall into this category include cancer, liver disease, or sickle cell anemia.
This type of health condition may be either a temporary condition, as in cancer, or a permanent one. The degree to which a condition can be treated will be taken into account in an education plan formed for the child. For example, a child with sickle cell anemia is not likely to improve, but may from time to time be free from painful episodes. When such is the case, higher expectations may be in place. Likewise, a child suffering from curable cancer may have temporary OHI status, and then when the child is well, educational expectations may be raised and any 504 or IEP plan discarded.
Establishing this status is fairly simple, though it does involve allowing access to a child’s medical records. As well, children with a health condition may be assessed at school to see if the condition in fact creates impairment in the classroom. If a child does not seem to be affected academically or socially, then no action may be taken. If an impairment will progress, however, it may be worthwhile to establish that a child has one so that action can be taken in the future, should his or her condition deteriorate.
Even if the child is not suffering academically, a history of numerous hospitalizations or lengthy illnesses can affect him or her socially. Children who have an established condition may have different rules for behavior or consequences for behavior than children with no health problems. Often, a 504 behavior plan addresses the emotional needs of children who are scarred by more than surgery or medical interventions.
Such children may be eligible for counseling services, friendship groups, or special rewards for good behavior. Some principals take an active role in helping students with an OHI. They might meet with a child once a week to give them extra support or encouragement, although this is not the case with all administrators.
The goal of this health classification is to identify students who will fail in school settings when rules for them are not made or modified. Since the goal of public schools is to help all children get the most from their education, OHI classification can help open new pathways toward most effectively educating students to the best of their abilities.