How would you suggest future teachers deal with someone with bipolar disorder?

Hello, I was wondering if you could share a time when you felt that you had a teacher that always made you feel included, and never made you feel different from anyone else. Or it could be the total opposite. Has anyone ever made you feel like an outcast? How would you suggest future teachers deal with someone with bipolar disorder? All suggestions are appreciated!

In high school, my teachers knew I was bipolar. I had an IEP that gave me the opportunity to test out of classes, come in late, and leave for appointments without penalty. I always felt different because I *was* different. They kept my bipolar confidential and never, ever, ever mentioned it outside progress meetings with my mom and my psych team. School was my sanctuary. I was smart, creative, well-liked by my teachers and some of my peers, and frequently recognized for the good work I did. I was able to achieve this because it was a place that I was allowed to be myself. I only ever felt like an outcast at home. I refused “kid glove” treatment. I was different, but outside the accommodations I needed, I wanted to be treated just like everyone else. And I was. And so I thrived.

As someone who was a bipolar teen, the best advice I can offer to a teacher is this: if you know your student is bipolar, be aware– but be discreet.  Be aware that he may need occasional accommodations– an extension on a paper, a pass to leave class to have a few minutes alone in the nurse’s office, the option to skip ahead in a book. If the student has an IEP or a 503 plan, follow it as best you can. Let your student know that you are there to educate them and support them and ask them what they need from you, within reason, to be successful. If you observe your student struggling, reach out privately, compassionately, and quietly. Unless the student is dangerous to himself or others, talk to him before you talk to guidance counselors, school psychologists, or his parents– this helps the student feel included in his education and his own emotional life and lets him know that you care enough about him to go directly to him, first. (Obviously, if it’s a life-or-death emergency, bypass the student and get help right away.)

Your bipolar student is a student first, and a person with bipolar second. Unless one interferes with the other, keep the illness on the back burner.

One thought on “How would you suggest future teachers deal with someone with bipolar disorder?

  1. Alison,
    Thanks so much for posting this insightful response. I work with college students that are training to be teachers – and they really need this advice to consider the person first. One of the intimidating things for my students that want to go for their degree in special education is writing IEP goals. Did you attend your IEP meetings? Could you give us an example of a goal that may have been discussed at your IEP? Thanks again for your valuable input.

    Prof Post

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