I thought with the start of the school year it would be great to share how to work with the schools, counselors, administrators and teachers to get the best education for our children with bipolar. I am sure those of us with children who are bipolar are all at different stages and may have many questions on where to start, what to do, what is right for your children and make sure the schools do what they are suppose to do.
Our daughter,15, has a 504 plan and it was just received at her new school. For any who do not know what this is I will explain. A 504 is a legal document under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that is designed to help those students with special needs or disabilities. No student can be excluded from any activity under this law and any accomodations in the child's plan must be followed. If you do a search, there is more information. Anyway,I don't think the teachers had read it as of yet (I am a teacher and know how hairy it is at the beginning). I e-mailed the teachers before Meet the Teacher night this week to explain our daughter's illness, what was in the plan as far as accomodations, and that I want to be notified of any concerns. After the first 6 weeks, I am going to ask for a 504 meeting to make any changes in her plan that are needed.
So far school has gone well but my daughter will be making a change of two classes in her schedule and it may change her entire day, including lunch time. I explained this to her, but she wants to take a Marketing and Sales class and move to Honors Spanish. She was okay with it yesterday. I said in another post that she was changed from Seroquel at night to Abilify. So far so good. She is actually doing her homework each night.
I am sure there are many on this board with questions about their children at the beginning of the year. As I said, I am a teacher and since my daughter was diagnosed, I look at some of our students in a whole different light. Bipolar does that. I know there are many here with so much information, insight and experience that would be able to help others who are just starting this journey with the children and the school systems.
Thanks, Cristina for bringing the accommodations and what is available to our children by law. I was aware of these plans, the 504 & the IEP. From what I understand the 504 is a list of accommodations that the teachers and school must supply and if they cannot they have to seek out other provisions for your child. I think that the only difference between the two is that the IEP is and Indvidualized Education Plan in which a board devises a formal plan that is subject to re-evaluation at least once a year or more frequently as needed. I also understand that for both your child must be classified and most BP children would fall under ED (emotionally disturbed) OR OHI (other health impaired). This part scared me at first because I felt that Erin would be labeled. I am sure that is the fear of many parents and holds them back from getting the accommodations that their child may need. After inquiring some more I believe that it would not be noted in her record when it came time for applying to college. I may be wrong about some of this information so correct me if I am so that other parents are not misguided.
Luckily for us, we have a small HS of 400 students. Even before Erin was diagnosed her teachers were quite supportive of both her and our family. She was hospitalized 4 times in one year, had involved the school social worker in a CPS investigation which she fabricated, and had her second suicide attempt in school just before her finals. We were not yet diagnosed and the teachers were beginning to notice her behaviors as well as side effects to the antidepressants she was on. We explained about her treatment for depression and the teachers were more than accommodating. In fact, when she was hospitalized for a second suicide attempt she was discharged just a day before finals were to begin. We met with the teachers and every one of the waived her needing to take the final and either took her midterm grade averaging it in or her grade for the quarter. The only problem was her Earth Science state exam....we explained that we needed to take as much stress off of Erin until we got down to her problem and that we saw how she would be upset if she had to repeat that course which she had an "A" in. The teacher volunteered to make herself available during finals week for an hour each morning to prepare Erin for the regents. Ends up that Erin was hospitalized for a 4th time just before the state test was to be administered and both the school and hospital made provisions for Erin to take the exam in the hospital. She eneded up getting an 94%!!!
When Erin went into her Sophmore year we met with the principal, guidance counselor, social worker and psychologist. We expalined Erin's diagnosis and handed out some info that was in layperson style and discussed what Erin's needs would be. After meeting with them it was promised that the basic needs that we were asking for could be accommodated without implementing and 504 or IEP.
Not every school would be as accommodating but we found that the teachers and staff at our daughter's high school to be more than accommodating of Erin's needs. In fact, with her impulsiveness and ability to have breakthroughs the teachers were quite atuned to that & giving us a call whenever they saw a change of ERin's behavior within the classroom or even if observed in the hallways.
As many may know....Erin was suspended several times last year due to her behaviors....I don't know if that could have been avoided but our feeling is that Erin SHOULD take any consequences that her behavior may impose and that she shouldn't use it as an excuse nor should we.
So in our situation we have been extremely fortunate to have Erin in a school where there is a natural working team of staff and parents to help guide Erin through her years of HS. Before each Open House we send an email to each teacher explaining Erin's diagnosis and how they could best assist us throughout the school year. That has worked out quite well for us and we are so lucky to have been accommodated wthout having to go through the disability act laws to get what we need for Erin in terms of a good education. But then of course, Erin has what I would categorize as a "Soft BP" as compared to what I have heard other children have experienced.
Thanks Cristina for starting this thread. I think that it will definitely be of great value to myself and other parents here on this board. It is wonderful of you to share you knowledge of how the schools can accommodate our kids and their needs.
With much love & gratitude ~ Goody
Last edited by goody2shuz; 09-08-2007 at 08:45 AM.
I was dx'ed when I was fifteen, but it'd been after five years of untreated depression and with my first manic episode happening while on Zoloft so the dx was changed to BP. At first, I didn't let any of my teachers know and it was okay at first, but half-way through sophomore year, I started to falter and I told all of my teachers with a little explanation. In Junior year, I prepared a letter and gave one to each of my teachers explaining my disorder and I did the same thing this year. My counselor from last year and this year (in Freshman year I had a different counselor who I didn't like, thus never went to) sees no need for a 504 Plan or an IEP because my teachers are all very accommodating...
The school nurse also knows and if things get bad, either she or my guidance counselor calls Mom and sometimes I end up having to go home early. :S But over all, my teachers are very understanding. Last year, I was hospitalised for a little over a week, but it was at the end of third quarter and making up the work was nearly impossible. My teachers allowed some slack and none of them failed me for the year, even if I failed for the fourth quarter. And this year, my teachers are all just as accomodating - one of my teachers is my AP Psych teacher so he obviously understands the disorder and my AP Lit. teacher has a daughter who is BP...the others are all understanding as well and I really appreciate it because it's so much easier than having to deal with 504s or IEPs...I asked my counselor a couple times about a 504 Plan, but seeing as all of my teachers are accomodating there is really no point...
Thanks Paige and Goody for responding. Some students only need a 504 plan and can be accomodated in the regular classroom and some need the IEP which give them services through special education and by a special education teacher. I think it is great you did not have to go this route and the teachers were and have been so understanding. We decided to do this as there was one teacher imparticular that was extremely difficult in making accomodations for our daughter without it (she left after that school year). That was in the 8th grade. This past year our daughter had a teacher who flatly told me "I don't follow 504s". We met in the principal office that afternoon, and she was told this was federal law. In the end I had my daughter changed from her class a couple of weeks later. I really think this woman was BP herself. Our daughter said she would come in happy, happy one day and like a witch the next. One of the accomodation in her 504 is that she be reminded to turn in assignments. This week and new school year she failed to print an assignment that she had on her laptop before class and her English teacher would not take it. After I sent an e-mail to all of her teachers regarding accomodations in her 504, because I knew they had not read her permanent records, she asked our daughter for a copy and accepted it yesterday. I would rather not had to do a 504, but in order to get those couple of teachers to help her get better, we did. Her teachers this year have no idea that last year she would not even do her homework as it was just impossible for her to concentrate. Since starting Abilify, I can see she is thinking so much more clearly. She is even speaking and getting her thoughts out easier and they make sense. She is also doing her homework without being told and even getting it done before due date, which is a complete turn around. I know she will still need accomodations this year, but I am thrilled it seems we may be able to weed some of them out of her plan. It makes her feel good too. When we meet for the 504 meeting I will make sure to mention how much healthier she is and much is because of what we had in place for her on the plan.
I see kids fall through the cracks at school whose parents do not know what to do. As a teacher I cannot tell a parent what I may suspect, and I am not qualified to make any kind of diagnosis. But I know there are some that never get the help they need and these are bright, creative and great kids. All I can say is "talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns" and even they may not know what is really going on with a child who is bipolar and the chaos in their head.
Anyway, you both have so much insight and I have learned much from both of you over the last several months. I am going to try to sit down and post more often now that school has started. I am fortunate to have a principal who allows me to job share which has been the only way I could have taken my daughter and myself to the psychiatrist for her sessions these past two years. I feel this school year right we can really look forward for the first time in about 4 years.
This is a great post. Thanks for starting it, mamiacp.
Goody, your information is correct. We were told that colleges do not see the classifications. For many students, the 504 is enough and the schools are much more willing to do that. From my understanding, the only way a child can get an IEP is to be classified and the schools are resistant to do that, unless they have no other choice, because it financially obligates them.
To make matters more complex, most Special Services departments do not know how to handle bright kids with special needs. We found that to be the case over and over when trying to classify our son because they were used to dealing with Learning Disabled kids.
Our son's IEP gave him some options in his schedule, such as starting school 2nd period to adjust for his tremendous sleep problems. The school was willng to make phys ed 1st period and we got a medical excuse for gym.
Last year, though, his IEP allowed him to have a tremendous amount of home instruction as he was finding the full school day too stressful and we had a tough time both with meds and with family tragedies.
It does take a lot of navigating and being your child's advocate. I had to hold my tongue last year when the school psychologist told me that they had other bipolar children and none of the were having the problems my son was having. I also had to hold my tongue when she suggested that they were only required to give him his academic subjects and if he couldn't handle a full day, he should consider dropping music. (He plans to major in music in college!) Fortunately, we are blessed with a phenomenal guidance counselor who has never lost sight of our son's innate intelligence or his long term goals and has been a real advocate for him.
There is alot of information available explaining the differences between 504 plans and IEPs for anyone who is trying to decide the right route. In order to get an IEP, the child must be classified and that is a long and arduos process. I believe the schools have 90 days to complete the background work. We found that even once they did so, much of their information was either incomplete or incorrect and their first response was that our son did not need to be classified. (even though he had already been out of school for 4 months and was on home instruction!)
We eventually got the IEP in place. It's not a perfect process, but it was the right decision for us and it gives us much more bargaining power if we need it.
Whenever a student is determined as needing any type of assistance, parents should always get a copy of whatever diagnostic testing, accomodations or modifications are going to be made. Having been on both sides of the table (literally) I agree that parents should check that all information is correct and complete. I agree with you Hope that it can be an arduous process. It is really difficult to get every person to one of these meetings, especially when your child reaches middle or high school. Some may not know, but you can tape record these meetings. Another thought when meeting with the teachers, administrators, ect.. is to take a trusted friend with you. I have found that sometimes I don't hear everything and need an extra pair of ears to help me remember.
That's great advice, Cristina about taking someone else. It helps to clarify what everyone heard. I've been in situations where the CST changed their thinking and then tried to convince my husband and me that we heard them incorrectly. Harder to do when there are two of you!
I also brought my niece, who is a Vice-Principal at an elementary school in a different district, to an early meeting. It helped that she understood the law. Our experience has been that the CST, who obviously represents the Director of Special Services, tries to do as little as they are legally-bound, but we've kept our cool and calmly told them our understanding of what our son is entitled to and, for the most part, we are working together as best as we can. It is very, very difficult because the spectre of the almighty budget is present in every meeting!