Bipolar Disorder

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K-12 CAMS for Students with Bipolar Disorder

Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience any of the limitations discussed below.  The degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Not all students with bipolar disorder will need CAMS (compensations, accommodations, modifications, strategies) to perform in school and many others may only need a few CAMS. Regardless, each student’s case should be evaluated on an individual basis with an Independent Needs Assessment Protocol done by an Educational Strategist & Consultant or Special Educational Needs Consultant (SEN). The following is a sample of possible CAMS for students with bipolar disorder.  Other CAMS solutions may exist so check with an Educational Strategist & Consultant or Special Educational Needs Consultant (SEN) for more information.          


1. What limitations the student with bipolar disorder is experiencing?

2. How these limitations affect the student and the student's school performance?

3. What specific activities or tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?

4. What CAMS are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible CAMS?

5. Are all possible resources being used to determine possible CAMS?

6. Has the student with bipolar disorder been consulted regarding possible CAMS?  Does the student know how s/he learns best?

7. Once CAMS are in place, would it be useful to talk with the student and/or team to evaluate the effectiveness of the CAMS and to determine whether additional or different CAMS are needed?

8. Do parents and school staff need training regarding bipolar disorder?

9.  Schedule time to meet with the Educational Strategist & Consultant or Special Educational Needs Consultant (SEN) to determine how to communicate needed CAMS with the school team and how to document.


Maintaining Stamina during the School Day:

Allow flexible scheduling
Allow longer or more frequent breaks
Provide additional time to learn new tasks, activities, and responsibilities
Provide self-paced work completion
Provide support and opportunities for when the student needs to take breaks
Allow for time for counseling, coaching, or support
Allow independent learning at home or other placement during part of the day or week
Allow part-time school schedule

Maintaining Concentration:

Reduce distractions in the student’s seating or work area
Provide space enclosures or a quiet place to listen or study                       Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting                          Allow work to be done at home and provide necessary support and equipment
Plan for uninterrupted work time
Allow for frequent breaks
Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
Restructure task or activity to include only essential functions, teaching, and mastery

Difficulty Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

Make daily to do lists and check items off as they are completed
Use several calendars to mark activities and deadlines
Remind student of important deadlines
Use electronic organizers
Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Working Effectively with Teachers and Other School Staff:

Provide positive praise and reinforcement
Provide written instructions
Develop written work agreements including the agreed upon CAMS, clear expectations of responsibilities, and the results of not meeting performance standards
Allow for open communication with teachers and other school staff           Establish written long-term and short-term goals
Develop strategies to deal with problems as they arise
Develop a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of the CAMS

Difficulty Handling Stress and Emotions:

Provide praise and positive reinforcement
Refer to counseling and school assistance programs or personnel
Allow telephone calls during school hours to doctors and others for needed support
Provide sensitivity training to school staff and students
Allow the presence of a support animal or object
Reinforce peer supports

Attendance Issues:

Provide flexible leave for health concerns
Provide a self-paced assignment load and flexible schedule
Allow work to and from home
Provide part-time school schedule
Allow the student to make up time missed efficiently so not to overwhelm

Issues of Change:

Recognize that a change in the school environment or of staff may be difficult for a person with bipolar disorder
Maintain open channels of communications between the student and the new and old staff in order to ensure an effective transition
Provide daily, weekly, or monthly meetings with the student to discuss school issues and production level

Situations and Solutions:

A teacher requested information on how to accommodate a student who has reduced concentration and memory loss due to mental illness. He has trouble with remembering the classroom rules, maintaining a neat and orderly desk, completing tasks, and checking for accuracy. He has difficulty staying on task and remembering what tasks he has completed or needs to complete. An SEN Consultant suggested laminating a copy of his daily tasks and checking items off with an erasable marker. Another suggestion was to use a watch with an alarm set for every hour as a reminder to check on his other responsibilities.

A student with bipolar disorder had difficulty with short-term memory and concentration. The student had a very full schedule. The SEN Consultant recommended discussion with the team regarding additional time for skill building and mastery, written instructions for completing specific tasks, daily checklists, and allowing one hour each school day to focus on working on or completing assignments.

A student with major depression and bipolar disorder was having difficulties concentrating on completing her school work.  The SEN Consultant recommended discussion with the team regarding the student’s placement to be a combination of independent study at home and attending some school activities and classes each day.   

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2006 Claudia Lowe, SENC  ......  adapted from www.jan.wvu.edu