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03-04-05, 11:53 PM
from Kimberly Bailey

Don't you just love the commercial with Dad riding the shopping cart through the back-to-school aisle with strains of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" accompanying his escapades? I chuckle every time I see that commercial, but I have to tell you, this is not the most wonderful time of the year for many parents. Having listened to parents in the support groups I frequent, and having received questions and pleas for help via email, I have quickly learned just how trying and even scary school can be for both the parents and the kids with bipolar disorder.
My question, and undoubtedly the question for many parents in this situation is: Is there anything that can help? As the parent of a challenging child about to enter the school system, I have to believe there is!

First and Foremost
We need to arm ourselves with a few fundamental facts.

To quote page 6 of Your Child's Mental Health, a brochure by the Children's Campaign of National Mental Health Services Knowledge Exchange Network:
Every child's mental health is important.
Many children have mental health problems.
These problems are real and painful and can be severe.
Mental health problems can be recognized and treated.
Caring families and communities working together can help.
Know Your Rights
On June 4, 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997. The purpose of this Act is to help bridge the gap between what children with disabilities learn and what is required in regular curriculum. The Department of Education has the law available in Word Perfect and Adobe formats for downloading. The Department of Education also offers an online Overview. Parents can help their Bipolar children much more effectively by educating themselves about their rights under the law.

The Individualized Education Plan is a written document which outlines your child's abilities and areas for improvement, sets goals for the school year and provides the details of how these goals will be met. Harley Tomey of the Virginia Department of Education has written an excellent, comprehensive article entitled "Individualized Education Program - The Process" which is a must-read! "A Road Map To Success -- Celebrate the Journey" by the State of Ohio Department of Education presents another great approach to this. Each of these offer a resource of information as it applies to the IEP in general.

However, there are a couple of IEP resources written expressly for children with bipolar disorder. The book Bipolar Disorders, part of the publisher O'Reilly's Patient-Centered Guides, has a chapter dedicated to providing information as it relates to the issues surrounding schooling and developing an IEP.

Another outstanding resource for parents of children with bipolar disorder is The Bipolar Child by Demitri and Janice Papolos. The Papoloses also address the issues surrounding these special children in their schooling, but they have taken it one step further by engaging the services of educational consultant, Suzanne Faustini, LSW, the director of the Ohio Protection and Advocacy Association in Cleveland for the purpose of actually compiling a sample IEP based on a real adolescent with this disorder.

Local Resources
Individual states offer a number of additional resources. The U.S. Department of Education maintains an Education Resource Organizations Directory which contains contact information for the various resources in each state.

In conclusion, I would just like to offer that you are your child's #1 and sometimes only advocate. Make a point to be well informed. Be proactive in your involvement. And remember - Every child's mental health is important!