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
* 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
* 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
* 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.
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.