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Even with treatment, symptoms of bipolar disorder can be difficult to
manage and can make school challenging. Regular and honest communication with
your child and his or her teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and school
administrators can be the most important factor in helping your child succeed.
Education professionals are experts at helping students with special
needs, but in order to do so, they must be kept up to date and informed about
what they can do to help. By law, school districts are required to make sure
students with conditions like bipolar disorder are given accommodations to help
You should work with your child and his or her teachers and guidance
counselors to develop an individualized education program (IEP) that takes into
account your child's specific needs. A detailed IEP lets each teacher and staff
member who works with your child know exactly what he or she can do to help
your child. The IEP requires regular reviews and meetings to make adjustments
and keep up with any changing needs.
A few accommodations that the school may make to help your child
During a severe
manic episode, you may need to request a "time-out"
from heavy academic requirements for your child to help reduce stress and to
keep the child from falling too far behind. Your child may not need a reduction
in schoolwork for most mood episodes; however, if the symptoms are severe, this
reduction may help keep the child on track at school. You may also want to
consider getting extra help (such as a tutor) when needed to assist your child
in keeping up with schoolwork.
If your child's symptoms are severe, placement in a day hospital or
residential treatment center that treats children with bipolar disorder may be
helpful in meeting your child's needs during an extended illness. However,
these treatment centers are not always available. It can also be helpful if a
designated teacher at your child's school is specially trained in dealing with
children who have bipolar disorder. This person can be a good resource and a
"safe person" for your child to go to for help during the school day, if
If your school is not understanding or does not support your child's
special needs for periodically reduced academic performance, you may be able to
work with your child's doctor to get those needs met in the school system.
Supporting your child, while not letting the child use bipolar disorder as an
excuse to miss assignments, can help him or her develop and succeed
academically and socially.
April 12, 2011
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & David A. Axelson, MD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
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