If your child has been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and they are of school age, then you should know about the Individual Education Plan (IEP). With an IEP, they can stay in a regular classroom setting, while some accommodations are made for them.

An IEP is a document that is written by both you and school officials together for the benefit of your child, so that your child will have a positive school experience. The accommodations will vary according to your child’s individual needs – goals and objectives are set for each educational need; although bipolar symptoms are taken into consideration.

For example, difficulty completing homework is a common problem for students who have bipolar disorder. They may be drained and exhausted by the end of the school day just from the accumulated stress of school. So in the IEP, expectations that are concerned with homework can be modified daily, monthly, and/or seasonally, according to your child's condition. Your child can be given more homework when they are stable and feeling well and less homework when they are more symptomatic.

Another common problem that students with bipolar disorder face is episodes of overwhelming emotion – such as extreme anxiety, frustration, rage, and/or tearfulness. To accommodate children with this difficulty, the school can establish a 'safety plan,' which designates a person and place where the child can go, away from the glares of their fellow classmates, when they need to regain their self-control.

One disturbing problem facing schools is how to discipline a child who is experiencing extreme symptoms of their bipolar disorder such as disrupting others by raging. If your child has a problem with rage and/or other violent behavior, make sure to address this in their IEP.

Some students with bipolar disorder have a problem getting up in the morning to attend school on time, because their medications make them groggy. It may be possible to get permission for your child to enter school at a later time, if this is your case.

However, if your child simply fails to attend class or complete homework outright, some schools may choose to discipline your child just as they would any other child. If your child is being disciplined, suspended, or expelled for what you and your child's doctor believe are bipolar symptoms, ask the school district to give your child a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA).

An FBA is administered by a trained professional and is designed to pinpoint the causes of your child's problematic behavior. Once these causes are determined, the professional draws up what is called a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), to help your child deal with their inappropriate behavior in a more positive way.

Schools are NOT allowed, however, to suspend your child for more than 10 days for inappropriate or dangerous behavior toward others or toward school property, and not for more than 45 days for bringing a weapon to school or distributing drugs.

You can learn more about FBAs and BIPs from the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, a national organization that helps students with emotional and behavioral problems to succeed in school, at: http://cecp.air.org/fba/problembehavior/main.htm

When you are writing your child's IEP, it is important that you, along with the school staff, consider not only the results of the required testing, but also your child’s physical symptoms and any side effects of their medication that may affect their alertness; attendance; ability to complete homework; participation in the regular school setting; etc.

Make sure that stress reduction strategies are included in your child’s IEP, as stress at school can trigger bipolar symptoms manifested only at home and can be missed in the school setting.

NOTE: Your child’s IEP is not set in stone. Any child who receives special education services must be reevaluated every three years, and several review meetings during each school year are advisable. Changes can be made to your child’s IEP at any time by requesting an 'emergency' IEP meeting between you and your child's school principal, special education teacher(s), and any other school professionals providing services to your child. This meeting may be requested by you, or by any member of your child’s school staff.

The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) has compiled a list of symptoms and accommodations that both families and schools have found to be helpful to students with bipolar disorder. This list is available at: http://www.bpkids.org/learning/symptoms.htm