Successfully meeting the many challenges that a child with bipolar disorder faces on a daily basis requires the expertise of a team of professionals. This team should include a psychiatrist, child psychologist or counselor, special education specialist, school psychologist, resource specialist, teacher, and parents.
At one point or another, the team may also include an occupational therapist, speech therapist, family physician, and behavior specialist. Each has an important set of skills and knowledge to bring to the table. The challenge is in keeping the communication flowing between all of the members of the team.
The child psychiatrist is an integral part of the team because this person will prescribe and monitor the medications for the child. Unfortunately, little research is available on the effects of specific medications for children with bipolar disorder. So much of the medication prescribed is on a trial and error basis.
Because certain medications may have side effects such as drowsiness or stomach upset, the child’s teacher can be a critical point of reference for the child’s team. Spending hours a day with the child can provide relevant information to the team on how well the child is managing with his medication.
A child psychologist or counselor is another integral part of the team. Because children often are not capable of recognizing and/or sharing their feelings, often times a counselor trained in art or play therapy is a good approach. Children are capable of revealing their emotions through drawing, painting, or other creative approaches.
A special education teacher is the critical link of the team for the school. A special education professional can bring her knowledge of the disorder, stress-reducing accommodations, and successful teaching strategies into the classroom.
This individual is also an expert at writing Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Because of the unique challenges of the bipolar child, accommodations need to be included in the plan that will take stress off of the child (shortened assignments, focus on quality and not quantity of work, and test accommodations).
Oftentimes some of the best resources for the team are the teachers who have previously worked with the child. They have had months of experience learning the specific triggers that may agitate a child along with the techniques that actually work in a given stressful situation. Because each child is unique, having someone with experience in identifying triggers and managing behavior can be really beneficial to future teachers.
Regardless of the number of professionals on the team, the most challenging part of managing the child’s behavior is in keeping all of the team members communicating. Busy schedules make meetings difficult. However, email is a simple tool that can be used by the entire team to share information. Behavior that is challenging to the teacher can be easily shared with the parents and copied to the other members of the team.
Flow of information to and from the team of professionals to the parents and the teachers is critical in successfully managing the bipolar child. A strong and diverse team who communicate as often as needed will help lead to the success of the child.