The Juniper Files: A Mom’s IEP
Is It A Trend?
There has been an increase in attention lately towards children who are growing up with bipolar disorder and the ways that it can affect many aspects of their life including school, friendships and family. As my daughter grew up attending ED classrooms in public schools, I became more aware of how many kids are diagnosed or suspected of having a mood disorder. And, I’ll admit, before my daughter, I knew next to nothing about it. Without more research I might wonder if it is really an increasing trend or just an increase in my own awareness. So the first step in my “Mom’s IEP” was to understand the history of this disorder and its current prevalence.
Emotional Disorders or Mean Kids?
Without proper understanding and support, many of these children are perceived as disruptive and often punished for behaviors they are unable to control. They may be known to bully other children or be otherwise aggressive. This aggression may alienate other students and make developing friendships impossible.
When a child has an emotional/behavioral disorder like bipolar disorder, it can make school a very stressful event for
many reasons, but when their needs are carefully considered they can both thrive and excel academically. An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with clearly defined goals and accommodations can help them to be successful. A large classroom may prove to be an overwhelming environment, so the IEP may call for a smaller classroom setting. Other accommodations may include an aide, frequent breaks, and a reward program.
Once an IEP is in place, helping a child with bipolar disorder socialize becomes a little easier. When they work in small groups he or she will have a greater chance of connecting with another student without feeling overwhelmed. Outside of school activities like scouts, sports, and craft clubs can be beneficial, especially if they are held in familiar places such as a friend’s home or a local park. When children develop a friendship, it can be carefully nurtured by planning play dates when they are well rested and in good spirits.
This was my daughter’s first year of high school, and it has been a disaster. Her IEP was completely ignored to the point that going to school was becoming detrimental to her mental health. I eventually had to pull her out of public school (A much longer story there). We are working on a virtual school program though it’s not going great so far. Another item on my “Mom’s IEP” is getting this schooling under control so that it benefits my daughter and her future goals.
The Home Environment Can Become Chaos
A child with bipolar disorder can make a household very chaotic if one is not proactive. Even more so than typical children, they have a strong desire for structure. They will naturally balk at structure and routine but truly need it. Once these routines are established and maintained consistently, children will be less anxious wondering what comes next. Another great practice is using positive redirection and positive reinforcement, such as sticker charts that are tallied up for escalating prizes as the number of earned stickers increase. Methods like these foster confidence and self-esteem rather than triggering the “fight or flight” response. Even at 15, we are using charts and visual aids to help my daughter safely and successfully navigate daily life. Add these visual tools to my own “Mom’s IEP.”
It’s Okay To Ask For MORE Help
While it is clear that bipolar disorder affects every aspect of a child’s life, it can be managed. The benefits of quality care for pediatric mental illness is immeasurable, with the potential to reduce both juvenile crime and suicide statistics. By spreading the word about the reality of pediatric mental illness, we can help more parents and professionals become educated on the different ways to manage this disorder and help these children to grow into healthy and happy adults. Many communities have support programs, but they can be hard to locate. It took us 4 years in this community to find a program called WrapAround (which has been here a long time). This support team is proving to be invaluable to my family as my daughter navigates the added complications of being a teenager.
[bctt tweet=”If you were to write an IEP for yourself or offer advice to me, what would you include?” username=”OurWriteSide”]
Until next week,