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Frequently Asked Questions
* How does bipolar disorder affect a child in the classroom?
Bipolar disorder can have many effects on a student in the classroom. Symptoms of both depression and mania can interfere with learning and make it difficult for the student to pay attention, stay on task, remain focused, and maintain motivation. In addition, cognitive effects may be seen in the area of executive functioning, memory, and organizational skills. Bipolar disorder can also affect the child's ability to correctly process facial expressions and the emotional meaning of language. This can cause conflict with peers and staff, making social interaction a challenge.
* Isn't this just a behavioral issue?
Bipolar disorder is a medical condition which affects thinking, energy, moods and behaviors. When the child is stable, he or she may be one of the best behaved students in your classroom. However, instability can cause the child to have odd and oppositional type behaviors. Bipolar disorder is not caused by a lack of discipline or guidance. It is a highly heritable illness that can be passed from generation to generation. It is important for educators to understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder in order to give assistance to students with this condition.
* How can I help a student with bipolar disorder in the classroom?
One of the biggest things you can do as an educator to help your student with bipolar disorder is to get to know him or her. When you know your student better, you will see when his symptoms are interfering with his class work. When you have a good relationship with your student, you can work collaboratively to have the best classroom experience. If your student feels that you are there to help and that he can trust you, then you have the basis for success. There are many degrees of symptom severity. Your student may need more support in the classroom than you can give on your own.
* Do children with bipolar disorder qualify for an IEP?
In one study on children with bipolar disorder, approximately 80 percent were receiving services through special education. Some children with bipolar disorder are able to receive accommodations under a Section 504 plan but many need the extra services available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A child with bipolar disorder may qualify under the category of "Other Health Impaired."
* What accommodations may be helpful?
Accommodations should be personalized to the students needs. Some of the more common accommodations for children with bipolar disorder include: a second set of books at home, extended time on testing, reduced work during times of in stability, reduced classroom size, limiting sensory input such as noise and light, organizational assistance, and a safe place to go to when emotionally distressed. Accommodations also must address medication side effects. These accommodations may include: unlimited use of the bathroom and water fountain, being able to eat crackers to calm upset stomach and so on.
* How can I improve my classroom environment?
Children with bipolar disorder frequently have difficulty processing sensory stimulation. Analyze your classroom from the perspective of your student. Sitting by the pencil sharpener or a noisy air conditioner may overly tax this student as he or she tries to process these noises. Overhead lighting should also be examined. If your student is overly stimulated by these bright lights, consider turning a section of lights off and using a dimmer area for this student. Ask your student about things in the classroom that bother him. Making minor adjustments can make a major difference!
* Can kids with bipolar disorder also have learning disabilities?
Children with bipolar disorder may also have a learning disability. Some experts believe that as many as half of these children have a writing disorder and many of them have difficulty in processing information correctly. If a student with bipolar disorder is struggling in the classroom, he should be referred for a complete educational evaluation to determine all of his educational needs.
* Can a child with bipolar disorder also be gifted?
Children with bipolar disorder may also be highly gifted. Many of them are creative, artistic, and talented. Seeing past their disability to their strengths will help you value these students. Educators can do much to help these students value themselves as well.
* Where can I get more information?
It is commendable that you want more information to help your student with bipolar disorder. The book, SWIVEL to Success - Bipolar Disorder in the Classroom: A Teacher's Guide to Helping Student's Succeed was written specifically to give teachers more help. Also please download a free copy of, The Student with Bipolar Disorder: An Educator's Guide and read, My School Day to understand how accommodations can have a positive effect. Al of these are linked below. We also have many additional links at the bottom of this page. Please especially note the articles on cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric disabilities and brain abnormalities in childhood bipolar disorder. Thank you for caring about a student with bipolar disorder.
SWIVEL to Success -
Bipolar Disorder in the Classroom:
A Teacher's Guide to Helping Students Succeed
The Student With Bipolar Disorder: An Educator's Guide
My School Day
appropriate accommodations
My School Day
appropriate accommodations
Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Presentation
Brain Abnormalities Associated With Bipolar Disorder
What Areas of the Brain May
Show Abnormalities in
Childhood Bipolar Disorder?
Level of Stability / Flexibility in School
Sample Accommodations
Sample Letter to Request School Testing
Sample Parent Agenda for School Meetings
Sample IEP Goals and Objectives
Classroom Environment
Educating and Nurturing the Bipolar Child
24: A Day in the Life of Bipolar Children and Their Families
Dealing With Cognitive Dysfunction Associated With Psychiatric Disabilities
Accomodating Students With Mood Lability
The Educational Issues of Children with Bipolar Disorder
Wrightslaw Special Education and Advocacy Pages
Educating the Child with Bipolar Disorder
IDEA Website
Receiving Bipolar Students After Hospitalization
Transitioning from Teen to Adult
About Pediatric Bipolar Disorder
Parent's Medication Guide for Children With BP
Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities
Finishing Strong - Educational Services
The Book:
The Webinar Series: Listen to our 4 part teacher training webinar series presented to the teachers of the state of Nebraska in association with ESU 13.