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Bipolar Diagnosis in Children

The Standard DSM-IV Criteria for Bipolar Diagnosis in Children

By Kimberly Read

Updated October 11, 2010

When a doctor suspects a child may have bipolar disorder, he or she will likely turn to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which lists a set of symptoms, established by the the American Psychiatric Association. However, the checklists outlined in the DSM-IV were developed for the purpose of diagnosing adults, not children.

So, doctors who adhere to this school of thought believe the defined symptoms are the same in both adults and children. This is the position of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which supported the largest and longest research study conducted to date on bipolar disorder in children (Leibenluft and Rich, 2008). This study is known as the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Youth (COBY).

The reason these influential institutions and possibly your child’s doctor believe the DSM-IV tools are valid is because research has demonstrated that there are children and adolescents who meet these criteria. As a matter of fact, COBY has recruited 300 kids who meet the DSM-IV guidelines (Leibenluft and Rich, 2008).

In the DSM-IV, there four types of bipolar disorder. Each specific type of bipolar disorder is distinguished from the others through the nature of episodes your child may be experiencing. The manual also provides a checklist of symptoms for each type of episode.

Bipolar Disorders


Theories in Diagnosing Children with Bipolar Disorder


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR).

Leibenluft, E. & Rich, B.A. (2008). Pediatric bipolar disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 163-187.

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