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Teaching Students with Bipolar Disorder

Instructor: Jennifer Moon
This lesson outlines common learning difficulties in students with bipolar disorder. It then provides suggestions to overcome these difficulties so students with bipolar disorder can experience success in school.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Millions of students in America's schools experience learning difficulties; one of the causes of these difficulties is a neurological disorder called bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is mood disorder that causes great variability in the way a student feels, thinks, and acts. Additionally, students with bipolar disorder often experience observable 'highs' and 'lows' in their energy levels, often going from being extremely depressed to extremely happy, all within a few minutes or hours. Bipolar disorder can typically be managed with medication, but an educator still must be aware of the unique considerations when teaching students with bipolar disorder.

Learning Difficulties Caused by Bipolar Disorder

Many learning difficulties may be due to bipolar disorder, though they differ among individual students. Following are some of the most commonly observed learning difficulties that are seen in the classroom.

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Difficulty with memorization of facts
  • Difficulty with multi-step problem solving
  • Difficulty with certain fine motor tasks
  • Difficulty getting along with others in group work

General Support Strategies for Students with Bipolar Disorder

It is very important to remember that no two students with bipolar disorder have exactly the same learning difficulties, nor will they benefit in the same way from similar support strategies. Following are some commonly used strategies that are best to begin with when trying to support a student with bipolar disorder in the classroom.

  • Allow the student to sit in an area free from too many distractions
  • Allow the student to have frequent, short breaks
  • Teach mnemonic device strategies to assist with memorization of facts and multi-step operations
  • Ensure the student's routine is predictable and warn the student ahead of changes
  • Schedule tasks that are difficult for the student at the student's preferred time of day
  • Shorten assignments that require a great deal of writing or use of repeated fine motor movements
  • Directly teach the student strategies to cooperate and resolve disagreements with peers
  • Incorporate social skills instruction into the student's learning program

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