Q:  Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder? 10 year old child

My 10 year old son was diagnosed with BiPolar at age 8.He is currently in the 5th grade.My question is while in 4th grade last year he was almost at a 6th grade reading level. The math that he did last year, He can no longer do and his reading has dropped to almost a 3rd grade reading level. Not to mention is writting has become unlegable. At home i have noticed him taking more mood swings and he it so set that something is wrong with him. Example: My 6 yr old daughter who is legally blind has Epilepsy as well. He has letterally acted out seizures twice and has begged for help he thinks this is really happening to himHe called me from scholl just last week he said his meds was bothering him so i picked him up and took him to the dr to have his levels checked just to be safe.Once i got him there i noticed he totally went overboard.He was asking about having a cat scan done on his head to see if he had Epilepsy. He was very persistant in thinking he did.Then he began talking in sentences like well mom when they admit me in the hospital they will have to run IV's nothing of this nature was ever mention to Steven.Could this be a sign of something else and if so what?I have brought this to his Dr's attention and he just said increase his meds.Can BiPolar disorder do this and effect his school work to this extent and if so what can i do about it? Thank You so much for your time and i look foward to hearing from you.Im only 28 and this is very scary, I can only imagine how my son feels living with this.



Dear Kim -- 
Wishing we had a child psychiatrist who could answer your question, as an adult psychiatrist I'll just say that yes, I can imagine these behaviors as being due to bipolar disorder and so would end up saying what your son's doc' did, namely "uh, oh, we need to get more mood stabilizer going here"; there isn't another way to respond (the few non-medication approaches, including paying attention to light exposure, are described on my website (see the section "Mood Stabilizing Without Medications" in the outline on this page)
, but none are anywhere near as well established as ways to cope with symptoms as the medication approaches).  

The other tool to consider is psychotherapy, not so much to control these symptoms as to help both him and you with the tremendous task -- as you say, we can only imagine what it's like living with this -- of trying to stay functioning in a time of life that's hard enough even without this bipolar thing.  So if you don't have a therapist who specializes in dealing with children and adolescents and their families "on the case", that would be one thing you might consider trying to arrange.  

Sorry to hear your story; good luck with trying to help your son. 

Dr. Phelps 

Published March, 2001