First and ForemostWe need to arm ourselves with a few fundamental facts. To quote 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 Under the LawOn June 4, 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997. The law was reauthorized and amended in 2004. The purpose of this Act is to help bridge the gap between what the learning needs of children with disabilities are and the requirements of the regular curriculum. The Department of Education has the law available for downloading (scroll down and see "Check These Out"). Parents can help their bipolar children much more effectively by educating themselves about their rights under the law.
The IEPThe Individualized Education Program 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!
There are also a couple of IEP resources written expressly for children with bipolar disorder. The book Bipolar Disorders by Mitzi Waltz 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 for Children With Mental IllnessesIndividual 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 say 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!