It is coming to light that many of the children we thought had attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) actually are experiencing an early start with bipolar disorder. The two conditions can be hard to differentiate in beginning stages because they share similar symptoms.
The severe mood swings and associated behaviors which come with bipolar disorder can make it tough for a child to do well in a school setting. Treatment helps, but school can still feel like an uphill battle. Still, there are things a parent can do to make it more likely their child with bipolar disorder will succeed at school.
What To Do Regarding School When A Child Is Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder
To begin with the child should be visiting with a therapist on a regular basis. This will be helpful to the child and the parent. Having a knowledgeable and involved professional gives the child someone to talk to and the parent an invaluable resource.
In addition to the therapist, the parent should be sure to talk with every teacher or adult who comes into contact with the child. Parents cannot assume that educators are up to speed on this condition and they may need to explain things and perhaps even suggest some reading on the subject. Communication between educators and parents is always important, but with a child who had bipolar disorder it is crucial.
Educators are there to serve and help the child, but they will need all the pertinent information in order to do that. Let them know specific ways that they can help make school a successful place in the child’s life. They need to understand the illness, what it can be expected to look like and be aware of any medications the child might be taking.
Individual education plans (IEPs) are common tools for helping children with special educational needs. The IEP puts in writing a plan to meet the challenges the child faces. This plan can work as a measuring rod and can be amended as necessary. Things that can be suggested as helps in the classroom include:
Tips To Help Children With Bipolar Disorder In School
- Give the child less homework, more time to complete assignments or break work down into manageable parts. Generally speaking, it is important to not allow the child to use the illness as an excuse for not doing school work, but keeping things manageable is key.
- Post the classroom rules.
- Excuse tardies first thing in the morning if the child’s sleep is a problem area.
- Give sufficient warning to students prior to changing activities.
- Have a “go to” adult on campus who can be physically in the classroom during manic phases to help or who can be called on to help the child with relaxation exercises.
- Place the child in a small, not special, classroom where there will be fewer distractions – during manic episodes the child will be highly distractible.
- Have regularly scheduled parent-teacher contact. Part of the discussion can be looking for any potential triggers to manic episodes. If the teacher tracks what time of day the episodes occur and what was going on at the time, this could be helpful in preventing future disruptions.
- Provide tutoring and/or summer school if needed to help the child stay on schedule academically.
- Find appropriate extra-curricular or enrichment classes in music, art, or some other area where the child demonstrates strengths.
- Provide continual and meaningful praise for all that is being done properly.
When A Child’s Bipolar Disorder Goes Through A Severe Phase
Sometimes a manic or depressive phase may be severe enough that the child needs to take a serious academic break. Residential care is not always available during these times, but parents should still be comfortable putting the brakes on things until the child is normalized. The stress of a school load on top of severe symptoms could be crushing to the child. On the other hand, lightening his/her load could help the child to stay on course.
If things are not going smoothly at school, talk with the child’s therapist about it. They may have further suggestions or may even be able to talk with administration. The parent wears the hat of advocate here and needs to feel assured that everyone is on the same page.
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