Is it just troublesome behavior or could it be bipolar disorder? Consider these:
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#1 The great imitator
Bipolar in kids can mimic other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, to name a few. Many mental health professionals agree that the process of diagnosis is difficult given that the disorder is a spectrum of symptoms and severity. Given this, there must be appropriate time given to the diagnosis process, and with great expertise.
#2 Typical symptoms
The onset of bipolar disorder in children can begin with a severe manic episode, sometimes with psychotic features, or, conversely, symptoms can be subtle and more difficult to perceive. Mania can include grandiosity, rapid speech, and a decreased need for sleep. “Mixed-mood” is common in kids with symptoms of both mania and depression, cycling rapidly over a short period of time, or even within the same day.
#3 Trust your instincts
We all have that inner voice that nags at us when something just does feel right. If you are worried that something is “off” with your child’s behavior, trust your instincts. There are aspects of bipolar that are observable, especially is the behavior is something that is developmentally inappropriate or is disrupting life in a profound way. Consider making an appointment for an assessment.
#4 Track it
Anytime you notice behavior you feel is abnormal for your child, write it down in a journal. Having contemporaneous notes is important to determine if there could be a trend, or if it’s just situational behavior. This type of documentation will be very valuable for an assessment if your child does see a physician because it will provide him or her with a careful recording.
#5 Look to your child’s educator
If unusual behavior continues, it may be a good idea to have a discussion with your child’s teacher, guidance counselor or school nurse. It could be helpful to learn if the same behavior continues at school, or if it’s just at home. However, just because the same behaviors aren’t being seen at school does not mean there’s nothing to it, because many times children will put on a “game face” if they don’t feel safe to be themselves.
#6 The genetic factor
Research tells us that brain-based disorders can be highly genetic. This is an important aspect to record and important for a doctor to know. Take a look at your own history and your child’s other parent—perhaps there is a diagnosis or maybe there have been symptoms but no official diagnosis. In either case, it’s important to remember it’s not your fault if this was passed along to your child.
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