Educators can significantly reduce classroom stresses for children with bipolar disorder, thereby allowing them to succeed in school. Academic stresses, like other stresses, can destabilize a child. Regular meetings between parents and school faculty, such as teachers, guidance counselors, or nurses, will allow collaboration to develop helpful school structure and strategies for the child.
Accommodations, modifications, and school strategies may include the following:
• Check-in on arrival to see if the child can succeed in certain classes that day. Where possible, provide alternatives to stressful activities on difficult days.
• Accommodate late arrival due to inability to awaken, which may be a medication side effect or a seasonal problem
• Adjust the homework load to prevent the child from becoming overwhelmed
• Adjust expectations until symptoms improve. Helping a child make more attainable goals when symptoms are more severe is important, so that the child can have the positive experience of success.
• Anticipate social difficulties and reduce opportunities for possible bullying by others. Children with bipolar disorder are often on a different “wavelength” than their peers and their behavior may be viewed as unusual. It is not uncommon for them to be socially isolated, and they may be targets for bullying. More often than other children, they may be ill-equipped to handle teasing in an appropriate way.
• Use behavioral plans at school that are consistent with those used at home. Please refer to “Interventions At Home”. You can also go to the website, www2.massgeneral.org for details regarding behavioral plan.
• Set up a procedure that allows the child to quickly and safely exit from an overwhelming situation. Designate a place and staff member that is always available when the child needs to de-stress.
• Expect and accommodate learning and cognitive difficulties, which may vary in severity from day to day. Despite normal or high intelligence, many children and adolescents with bipolar disorder have processing and communication deficits that hinder learning and create frustration.
• Use alternative discipline approaches if children are unable to control their behavior. Traditional approaches to discipline are unlikely to produce the desired results, and an approach that is effective one day may not work the next day. Alternative strategies include providing additional time and then repeating a request, developing a list of options from which children may choose, and designating a special place for students to go during times of stress.
• Encourage the child to help develop interventions. Enlisting the child in the task will lead to more successful strategies and will foster the child’s ability to problem-solve.
“The only absolute rule in behavior management is: Treat everyone with respect at all times. Belittlement has no place in the repertoire of an authority figure.” – Dr. Randy Sprick
Contributed by Marsha Reed, Behavior Coach/Mandt Instructor, Tulsa Public Schools