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School Tools for Children With Mental Illnesses

The IEP is an Excellent Resource for Your Bipolar Child

By Kimberly Read

Updated June 11, 2014

Back-to-school time 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. Here are some online resources and information about the most valuable school tool, the IEP or Individualized Education Program.

First and Foremost

We 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 Law

On 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 IEP

The 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 Illnesses

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 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!

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