Guest Author - Karen Huber
There is some debate about bipolar disorder in children under 12. Some professionals believe that it develops at a later age and is not very prevalent in children under 12. These professionals feel that bipolar disorder is many times a false diagnosis; symptoms are very similar to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, oppositional-defiant disorder, conduct disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and/or borderline personality disorder. There are cases of young onset bipolar disorder, but they are not as prevalent as in adolescence or adulthood.
Some symptoms to watch in young children when bipolar disorder is suspected are severe and recurring depression, lengthy rages, suicidal talk, risky behaviors, advanced sexual behaviors, impulsiveness and aggression, delusions and hallucinations, extreme hostility, persistent irritability, nonstop talking, sleep disturbances, and violent drawings or stories. Keep in mind that many of these behaviors are also present in other disorders.
The first step for treatment is to find an educated, reputable pediatric psychiatrist. Ask for recommendations from a family doctor, psychiatric center, or friends that have children with similar problems. A good treatment plan for children is much the same as a good adult treatment plan. Adherence and monitoring of medication and treatment is a must for successful reduction of symptoms. Educate yourself, your family, and friends about the disorder, treatment, and handling of bipolar behaviors. Good counseling and psychotherapy for the child and family is the main part of treatment as is treatment of coexisting disorders. Set up and adhere to a regular sleeping schedule and consistent low-stress environment. Practice good nutrition and exercise habits. Develop and keep a supportive network of family and friends.
Skills you, as a parent or caregiver, can learn and use are good listening and communication. A child may not always know how to vocalize his or her feelings or needs. Prioritize issues to handle. There is not enough time in a day to get every issue solved. Relaxation techniques are very important and will become very helpful to you in your life, too. Anticipate and prepare for stress. It cannot be avoided, especially in the fast-paced environment that we live in. Discipline firmly and learn safe restraints if necessary. Nourish your child's creativity through activities that express their strengths. Structure is paramount; the child needs to follow a routine and feel safe in his or her environment.