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The Bipolar Child, Part 3

by Daniel on June 18th, 2012

So What’s a Parent To Do?
Finding the right medical professional can be a real challenge, since many of them still do not yet recognize bipolarity in children and may not use key diagnostic tools like taking a family history to identify genetic predisposition to the disorder.

“For the time being, we are still left with a view of the disorder that’s based on adult criteria, which doesn’t fit with what it actually looks like in children,” said Demitri Papolos. To change that, “requires a paradigm shift.” In his book, Papolos lists medical centers around the country that are doing pioneering work in bipolar disorders in children.

Once a diagnosis is made, there are mood stabilizers that have been shown to be effective in treating the disorder. It is a trial-and-error procedure to find the right one, Demitri Papolos said, and there are side effects to be aware of. Many of the medications have only recently begun to be used in children.

Medications for treating mood disorders include lithium, Depakote, and Tegretol. Some of the newer anticonvulsant medications are also being used, especially in adolescents, including Lamictal and Topamax. There is a range of medications beyond these, as well as alternative treatments, including use of omega-3 fatty acids, and phototherapy with full-spectrum lights.

Waltz said her daughter became stabilized after taking lithium and is now a young adult who is living and functioning independently. “This is a success story,” she said.

But to get there, parents have to deal with the challenge of both finding the right medical diagnosis and treatment, even as they deal with the day-to-day experience of living with children whose temper tantrums can be like “like nuclear energy,” said Janice Papolos. “It’s a rage that is shocking.” Yet, at other times, these kids are so lethargic they can’t get out of bed.

Without having the benefit of knowing the chemical origins, the patterns of behavior or the treatments, what makes it worse is that “parents are blaming themselves,” said Janice Papolos. There’s plenty of finger pointing by families and even strangers as they watch a parent try to cope with a child out of control.

“Even some therapists tend to blame you,” said Waltz. When you come in with a young child with the symptoms, but not yet a diagnosis, of bipolar disorder, “It’s assumed it’s got something to do with what’s happening in the family life. Having every mistake you’ve ever made being raked over the coals can be tough.”

But, said Wells, “once you’ve seen stability, it gives you quite a bit of hope. There is a child inside all these symptoms, and I’ve been able to see her true self. ” In speaking publicly about her own family’s story, it’s worth it, she said, “if I can give just one person hope.”

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