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Bipolar Disorder in Children: School Issues - Topic Overview

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 way to help your child succeed.

Education professionals are experts at helping students with special needs. But 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 them succeed.

You should work with your child and his or her teachers and guidance counselors to build 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 include:

  • Reducing homework or extending deadlines for assignments or tests.
  • Allowing a late start to school if the child is having problems with fatigue or is not sleeping at night.
  • Designating a knowledgeable staff member who the child can go to if needed during the school day.
  • Providing special attention or assistance during class if the child needs help sitting still or focusing.
  • Providing a small class size, which may help improve your child's ability to focus during manic episodes. Bipolar disorder does not affect the child's intelligence, so the child should not necessarily be placed in a special education class with children who have learning challenges.
  • Having daily or weekly communication between parents and teachers (through phone, notes, or email) regarding the child's behavior and progress both at home and at school.
  • Attending summer school, to help keep your child at the appropriate grade level if he or she misses too much school during the regular school year.
  • Providing tutoring during extended absences.
  • Using a keyboard or recording a class lecture if the child is having difficulty focusing when taking notes.
  • Placing the child in enrichment programs, such as art, music, or other areas where the child shows strength.
  • Allowing free access to the water fountain and bathroom, especially during manic episodes when keeping his or her body still can be challenging.
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