Bipolar Disorder in Children

Serving Adults with Special Needs

Facts about Bipolar Disorder in Children

Children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) exhibit similar symptoms to the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Although difficult to diagnose, there are some key behavioral differences: the manic bipolar phase is marked by extreme and prolonged fits of anger known as “affective storms” that are extreme versions of periodic ADHD episodes; whereas the ADHD youngster is jumpy, clown-like and unfocused, the bipolar child might display grandiose flourishes such as knowing more than the teacherand delusions such as their own moral code allowing their disruptive behavior. In short,ADHD children recognize the difference between fantasy and reality, whereas, for bipolar disorder children, these lines may be blurred.

Just so the parents of ADHD children don’t despair at the prospect of a more serious illness, although bipolar children frequently also have ADHD, a child with ADHD is rarely also bipolar. ADHD is a stand-alone condition that can be treated successfullyand the symptoms do not progress into more serious conditions. The co-morbidity of bipolar disorder and ADHD is more difficult to treat, however, and is often performed with therapy and a combination of medications which are constantly monitored as the child grows.

Treatments for Bipolar Disorder Child

The difficulty in effectively treating the ADHD/Bipolar Disorder in children combination has led experts to regard it as a subtype of illness, although the correlation between the two is not clear. Treatment combinations usually exclude the usual ADHD stimulants and anti-depressants as they tend to accelerate the manic symptoms, and mood stabilizers alone are not effective. Medications used for treating dementia and high blood pressure have had some success in moderating behaviors and promoting better focus. Research is ongoing to discover the relationship between these diagnoses, their treatment and the impact on adulthood.

As bipolar children move into adolescence, they often present hyper sexuality and various addictive behaviors that disrupt family life and cause financial difficulties. The imaginative play of children enters into more serious territory. Their reality might accentuate feeling different from their peers which can lead to deep depression and/or feelings of persecution. “Bullying” and embarrassment within peer groups can lead to serious negative behaviors and even suicide. There have been many news stories of adolescents acting out violent video games with real guns in very real situations. The line between acceptable social norms and the bipolar child’s parallel “virtual” reality is often non-existent.

A treatment plan that includes counseling, medications and strong family support is necessary to treat childhood bipolar disorder. Early diagnosis is important. This will allow the child’s mood to stabilize and give him/her time to succeed with peers and in schoolwork. Frequent medication monitoring is important to reduce the impact of bipolar disorder in children.

Bipolar Disorder in Young Adults

As children move into their late teen and young adult years, they demand more independence from parental control. Just like Type 1 Diabetes, however, medication and monitoring will be a lifelong process for these young adults, and many refuse to accept this responsibility. Many young adults with bipolar disorder stop taking their medications, believing that, as “adults”, they can control their condition themselves. This usually leads to a return to destructive behaviors and extreme mood cycles. The crashes are unpleasant and make more difficult recoveries.

Living options are difficult for these young adults. Family settings can be problematic, as familial tensions often surface and there is a tendency for parents to become over-emotional in their responses to erratic behavior. Living independently with so many choices and no supervision can be disastrous. Through therapy and medications, however, these young adults can live successfully with moderate supervision in group settings. In this environment, they can make friends and exercise choices of activity within a controlled setting. Assisted living is helpful for minimizing the effects of bipolar disorder in children as they progress into adulthoodAssisted living in a group home is an affordable option for most families. Their adult children are safe and the family can continue to spend time together without the supervisory issues.

Ombudsman Program

A long-term care ombudsman helps residents of a nursing facility and residents of an assisted living facility resolve complaints. Help provided by an ombudsman is confidential and free of charge. To speak with an ombudsman, a person may call the toll-free number 1-800-252-2412.