School Performance

Ask the Expert Patient Health Guide
  • Beth, who is the mother of the 13-year-old, not doing well in school, writes:

    “How does an IEP/504 plan work for a child with BP? She is very bright and does not have a learning disability or ADHD.  Her problems tend to be more emotional and social.  However her grades right now are basically failing because she sleeps in class or doesn't turn homework in. Medications have been adjusted to help the sleepiness.  Also, does anyone have experience with a military school or boarding school appropriate for BP kids?  We will place her somewhere before we let her continue to go down hill and end up on the streets.”

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    In a similar fashion, HopefulMom writes:

    “I got my son's grade check in geometry and saw he hasn't turned in the last 6 assignments in that class.  I know he does them because I've watched him do his math.  When I questioned him about it he said "I haven't turned them in yet."  I'm thinking "Why?"  That doesn't make sense.  So I told him to go see his teacher before school and turn them in.  After school he said he lost them.  He put them in his math book and they fell out.  I have given him a homework folder to put his papers in but he's not choosing to use it for some reason.  I am trying really hard not to lose my temper with him but he's failing 2 classes.  I feel like he is purposefully failing.  I don't get it.  I know he wants to repeat the grade but that doesn't mean he can just get by with doing this stuff.”

    In another post, she adds:

    “He's really working on bringing up his Geometry grade but he's not doing History or Science.  Thing is, I really feel like he's trying.  He does homework for an hour every day but he's having a hard time concentrating on more than one subject at a time.  He said he feels really sleepy in school and can't focus. I also don't want to punish him if he's trying and just having a hard time ‘doing it all.’”

    In case you are wondering how a mood disorder affects academic performance, just ask Beth and HopefulMom. Their stories are representative of the dozens I’ve heard in my conversations with parents. My expertise comes from being a poor student, myself. Depression was a constant in my life by junior high, and though my mania took longer to develop I clearly was showing early symptoms and other weird behaviors. It took me five years to finish high school, and my first attempt at college ended in failure.

    Believe me, it hurts when I hear how kids suffer in school. This just isn’t a few “lost years” we’re talking about. These are bright and sensitive kids at risk of missing out at a decent shot in life.

    My good friend Janie Papolos, co-author of “The Bipolar Child,” is very articulate in describing what these kids are up against: Going to bed at night is virtually impossible for them, as is getting up in the morning. Already, they are facing the day with a severe handicap. Bipolar kids can also experience problems with executive function and other mental tasks. Organization is typically the first to go. Janice says moms typically have to act as their kids’ frontal lobes.

  • On top of that, these kids express high anxiety. Simply negotiating one’s way from classroom to classroom can be very stressful. Social ostracization is common. Schoolwork can be overwhelming. On top of that, meds side effects can be onerous.

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    By law, schools must make accommodations for these kids. An IEP (individualized education plan) is a must. “The Bipolar Child” is full of excellent information on how to sit down with teachers and administrators to develop one. The book also contains info on alternative schooling.

    I am not an educator, but my guess is military school is self-defeating. These schools have a high emphasis on discipline, so your child is likely to be punished for his or her illness rather than helped. Better to shop for schools that know what bipolar is all about.

    Janice and her husband Demitri have excellent information on their website, including IEPs, and there you can purchase her excellent DVD.

    Another great resource is the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation.

    Finally: You have great kids, with insights and sensitivities and talents you can’t begin to imagine. Please have faith in the power of your love and in their resiliency.


    Do you have questions about bipolar disorder? Every two weeks, I'll answer new questions and post the answers here, in our Ask the Expert Patient section.

    If you would like to ask a question about bipolar disorder or living with bipolar disorder, please write a SharePost and be sure to select "a question" in the drop-down menu next to "I want to create a SharePost that is a," which is Step 2 on the SharePost creation screen.

    Please keep in mind that I am not a physician. I cannot diagnose or give medical advice. This section is for sharing information and offering support as a nonphysician "Expert Patient."



Published On: December 19, 2007