Recent brain imaging studies show biological differences in patients with bipolar disorder. The disorder affects learning in a number of ways, ranging from difficulties with sleep, energy, school attendance, concentration, executive function, and cognition. Side effects from medications can affect the child’s learning and energy. Moreover, while many of these children are uncommonly bright or creative, they often have co-occurring learning disabilities. Even when moods are stable, the condition often causes cognitive deficits, including the ability to: Pay attention Remember and recall information Think critically, categorize, and organize information Employ problem-solving skills quickly coordinate eye-hand movements
In addition, bi-polar disorder can cause a child to be at times impulsive, talkative, distractible, withdrawn, unmotivated, or difficult to engage. Medications to manage the illness can cause cognitive dulling, sleepiness, slurring of speech, memory recall difficulties, and physical discomfort such as nausea and excessive thirst. Despite all these challenges, a student with bipolar disorder can succeed in the classroom with the right supports and accommodations.
The teaching skills that make a classroom teacher successful with typical students are essential when working with children who have bipolar disorder:
Flexibility to adapt assignments, curriculum and presentation style as needed.
Patience to ignore minor negative behaviours, encourage positive behaviours, and provide positive behavioural choices. Most important is the ability to stay calm and be a model of desired behaviour. Good conflict management skills to resolve conflicts in a no confrontational, non-combative, safe, and positive manner.
Receptivity to change and to working collaboratively with the child’s parents, doctors, and other professionals to best meet the needs of the child.
The ability to laugh at oneself and at situations. Teachers who can laugh at their own mistakes, and bring fun and humour into the classroom reduce the level of stress that students feel.