Q:  Teaching Aid has Bipolar

Dear Dr. Phelps,

I am concerned about my teaching aid who shared with me the other
day that she is bi-polar. I teach pre-k (4-5 yr. olds) she is my assistant
in the classroom. She has been hospitalized for her condition and is
currently on meds and observed by dr. I have some concerns about
her behavior, she often is too hard on the kids and gets very annoyed
by the noise our classroom generates. I have seen her eat the childrens
food that they have thrown away, she has a hard time dealing with
conflicts between the children, and sometimes "plays" the baby in the
home center for 30 or more min. (fake crying and laying on the floor-
I have been known to be an elephant in our class, but she takes things
too far) I worry every day when I leave the class room for a break or
errand if they will be okay. Should someone with this condition be
with kids, and If I wouldn't leave my kids with her should our school
trust her with 17 kids? I understand that this is out of her control, and
I really care about her. 
Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Dear Ali -- 
Good of you to wonder, and to ask.  You're in a very awkward position.  I'm sure you've tried to think who you could alert to your concern: her supervisor from her education program?  Her parents?  Your principal?  Her doctor?   

With most folks who have bipolar I, I will have a "safety net" arrangement: someone who sees the patient very frequently who knows about the diagnosis and the risks and can make something happen quickly (get the doc', get the family; get the patient to a hospital; alert the psychiatrist to the presence of symptoms; or call emergency services if needed).  If your assistant has such a net, that's obviously where you'd want to turn.  

Is she organized enough that you can discuss your concerns with her directly?  Perhaps on a relatively symptom-free day?  And get her direction as to what she would want you to do when you see symptoms?  

I agree with your concern about leaving the class with her, and your logic (not your own kids, so why a class?).  At the same time your care and your concern not to just "blow the whistle" in such a way she gets yanked (solves your problem, but surely not hers) is really nice to hear -- you are really gracious to do this for her.  I hope there's an idea in here that might help you.  In the long run, making something happen rather than putting up with symptoms is probably far the better for all concerned, if you can figure out the most gentle way of doing it. 

Dr. Phelps

Published March, 2001