Other health impairment


Partial and Generalized Seizures


Our nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines epilepsy under “other health impairment,” which means…


"…having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and adversely affects a child's educational performance."

[34 code of Federal Regulations §300.8(c)(9)]

Other definitions

Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. It's also called seizure disorder. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy.

There are many different types of seizures. People may experience just one type or more than one. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which part and how much of the brain is affected by the electrical disturbance that produces seizures.

Experts divide seizures into six types:


Epilepsy affects nearly 3 million Americans and 50 million people world wide. About 300,000 American children under the age of 14 have epilepsy. More than 570,000 adults age 65 and above have the condition. It is the third most common neurological disorder in the US after Alzheimer's disease and stroke. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


Seizures are symptoms of abnormal brain function. With the exception of very young children and the elderly, the cause of the abnormal brain function is usually not identifiable. In about seven of ten people with epilepsy, no one cause can be found. Among the rest, the cause may be any one of a number of things that can make a difference in the way the brain works. Head injuries or lack of oxygen during birth may damage the delicate electrical system in the brain. Other causes include brain tumors, genetic conditions, lead poisoning, problems in development of the brain before birth, and infections like meningitis or encephalitis. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


Unfortunately, epilepsy is impossible to prevent. Many children with epilepsy gain complete control of their seizures with regular use of seizure preventing medicines. These medicines have to be taken from one to four times a day. This means that some children with this disorder will have to take medicine during the school day. Successful treatment depends on keeping a steady level of medication in the child's blood at all times, so it is important that doses not be missed or given late. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


Each type of seizure has a different set of characteristics:
Generalized seizures:

Partial seizures:

Gelastic & Dacrystic seizures:


When a doctor has made a diagnosis, the next step is to select the best form of treatment. If the seizure was caused by an underlying correctable brain condition, surgery may stop seizures. If epilepsy - that is, a continuing tendency to have seizures - is diagnosed, the doctor will usually prescribe regular use of seizure-preventing medications. If drugs are not successful, other methods may be tried, including surgery, a special diet, complementary therapy or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). The goal of epilepsy treatment is to prevent further seizures, avoid side effects, and make it possible for people to lead active lives. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


About half of all people with epilepsy can expect to get complete control of seizures when anti-epileptic medication is taken regularly. Another thirty percent have significantly fewer seizures while taking medication. In about 20%, current medications may decrease seizures to some degree but do not control them.

Epilepsy generally does not get worse with age unless the seizures are being caused by an underlying brain disorder that gets worse with time, such as a brain tumor. If anything, the frequency of seizures that begin earlier in life seem to less as people with epilepsy grow older.

In some forms of childhood epilepsy, the chances of outgrowing the disorder seem to be quite good. There is no way to tell in advance, however, whether an individual child's seizures will disappear in later life. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


Today, thanks to regular treatment with medication that prevent seizures, many children with epilepsy have these episodes infrequently or not at all and are able to participate fully in school activities. However, children who are still having seizures may run into problems at schools, such as isolation from other students, low self-esteem, and a lower level of achievement. 

Most children with epilepsy develop and learn similarly to children without epilepsy; however, as a group their risk for problems with learning is increased threefold. Approximately 9% of children with epilepsy have IQ's below 70, a percentage that is three times greater than in the general population. 

Children who achieve seizure control relatively quickly with few side effects and no cognitive impairments generally have the best chance for average or above average educational achievement. However, it is worth noting that children with epilepsy with average IQ may not achieve up to their full potential, and attention problems have been identified across the spectrum. Loss of school time because of previously undiagnosed seizures or medical tests may also affect performance, even among children who are otherwise doing well. 

Students with epilepsy are at an increased risk for academic underachievement, particularly in the basic skills of reading, language, and arithmetic. Many of them are found to be significantly behind their peers in academic achievement levels, ranging from 16% below grade in reading to 50% in general knowledge. In addition, children with severe epilepsy are also likely to experience social rejection from peers. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2012)


Epilepsy Foundation
4351 Garden City Drive
Suite 500
Landover, MD 20785-7223
301-459-3700, 800-EFA-1000

The Epilepsy Foundation is the national volunteer agency solely dedicated to the welfare of the 2.7 million people with epilepsy in the U.S. and their families. The organization works to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through research, education, advocacy and services.

American Epilepsy Society
342 North Main Street
West Hartford, CT 06117-2507

The American Epilepsy Society is one of the oldest neurological professional organizations in this country. The Society seeks to promote interdisciplinary communications, scientific investigation and exchange of clinical information about epilepsy. Membership consists of clinicians, scientists investigating basic and clinical aspects of epilepsy, and other professionals interested in seizure disorders. Members represent both pediatric and adult aspects of epilepsy.

Child Neurology Society
National Office
1000 West County Road E
Suite 290
St. Paul, MN 55126

The Child Neurology Society is the preeminent non-profit professional association of pediatric neurologists in the United States, Canada, and worldwide devoted to fostering the discipline of child neurology and promoting the optimal care and welfare of children with neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders. These disorders include epilepsy, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disabilities, complex metabolic diseases, nerve and muscle diseases and a host of other highly challenging conditions.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20284
800-352-9424, 301-496-5751

The mission of NINDS is to reduce the burden of neurological disease - a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts and supports research on brain and nervous system disorders. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1950, NINDS is one of the more than two-dozen research institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH, located in Bethesda, Maryland, is an agency of the Public Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NINDS has occupied a central position in the world of neuroscience for 50 years.

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE)
730 N. Franklin
Suite 404
Chicago, IL 6061

Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for epilepsy by raising funds for research and by increasing awareness of the prevalence and devastation of this disease. CURE is dedicated to raising public awareness about epilepsy and the fact that so many patients are severely impacted by the disease. Without a strong voice, epilepsy research will continue to lag behind that of other diseases.