Our dining room table serves as Braxton's desk. It works for now but hoping to get him a better desk for him in the future. He has everything he needs at the table. In this picture he is reading facts and trivia on Virginia.

Our dining room table serves as Braxton's desk. It works for now but hoping to get him a better desk for him in the future. He has everything he needs at the table. In this picture he is reading facts and trivia on Virginia.

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?

Yes, they can. My son was able to get an IEP under Emotional Behavioral Disorder. Sometimes they will put it under Otherwise Health Impaired. If you have any trouble with this seek an advocate. I sure wish I would have multiple times. I am going to make damn sure that we have a good advocate before we pursue the enrollment into High-school.

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.

One of the best things an educator as well as other school staff to do for a child with Bipolar Disorder is to listen to the parents. The parents live with this child day in and day out, they have learned how to cope, how to handle the mania, depression or mixed episodes the child may have. Don’t take things for granite that he did well today, why is he behaving like this today or he was fine this morning but now this afternoon he is out of control. Sometimes it can be minute by minute. They may be set off by something minor to you but may seem major to them. In contrary nothing may set them off and they just go off. It is not something they have control over and if you want to help these children, Please Listen to the Parents and ask questions!!!!

Homeschooling allows Braxton to have his mental, physical and emotional needs met by someone who loves him.
(Let’s not forget that I had to pull him out of school toward the end of the 2012-2013 school year due to some staff members lacking the understanding that bipolar disorder is real illness and the child who has it may not be able to control their emotions.)

Mood States and Changes: Mood swings are the primary symptom of Bipolar Disorder. These children feel the same emotions that all humans feel but with greater intensity and in disproportion to the situation. The moods change rapidly. I’ve seen my son cycle the entire gamut of human emotions in 45 minutes. I can monitor the subtle cues of the mood swings. A teacher with 20 or more children wouldn’t have the time or focus to notice the little things that I notice. When Braxton is manic he has a harder time focusing, he’s constantly moving, talking about everything but the subject at hand, getting up from his seat, makes careless mistakes, rushes through his work, and don’t get me started on the goofing off. When Braxton is depressed he’s tired, has no energy, doesn’t retain what he has learned, hell he doesn’t care about anything, drifting off, spaces out, drags the work on for hours. When Braxton is “straight” he is ready to learn, can’t wait to get started, stays focus, reads and comprehends all of his work, gets most things right, and is able get his work done with little supervision.

Flexibility: I can adjust our activities based upon concentration and energy levels. I can quit altogether if necessary. Homeschooling allows me to handle the situation as needed.

Sleep Habits: When Braxton is depressed all he wants to do is sleep, mope around, grumble and complain. Goes to bed early and gets up late, only to want to go back to bed shortly after getting up. When Braxton is manic, the last thing he wants to do is sleep. Stays up late and gets up early.

Pace: Working with Braxton at home I can go at the pace that is able to learn the best. It doesn’t matter whether it is Math, Science, Social Studies, Health or Reading. Here’s an example: Some days it can take Braxtonfour to five hours just to do four pages in his math work book and four worksheets. Other days he can get the same amount of math done in less than 2 1/2 hours. This is really important to us because it shows what he is struggling with and what he is actually learning. Some things come super easy to Braxton while other stuff may take awhile. This also allows him to set the pace at which he is learning and lets us be more flexible when he needs more time to learn the material.

Another great benefit to homeschooling Braxton, is that we have him registered through the state as un-schooled, even though Braxton was suppose to start 7th grade for the 2013 – 2014 school year. I bet you are wondering what that is, well it’s where I can teach Braxton at various grade levels, catering to him learning needs. Braxton started out the school year on September 3, 2014 at Kindergarten level and now he is at a 2nd grade level in Math, Reading Comprehension, Spelling, and Language Arts. It is really hard to say where he is at, grade wise with Science and Social Studies. Right now he is learning about the fifty states, each one individually and he is learning about the Planets in the Solar System individually. Cognitively Braxton is at a 3rd – 4th grade level per his last psychological testing.