IEP and 504 Education Plans for Children with Bipolar Disorder: Parent Preparation and Planning

October 11, 2011 Angela McClanahan

My oldest son, Bob, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD. In two weeks, I will meet with his school to facilitate a Section 504 plan, as recommended by the school counselor.

As I investigate various accommodations available under education and disability law, I'm not sure two weeks is enough time for me to prepare.

iep3According to the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation ("JBRF"), there are two federal statutes Bob's situation falls under--Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (reauth. 1997) ("IDEA"). Purportedly, IDEA allows for greater access to resources both in and outside the classroom through the implementation of an Individualized Education Plan (the IEP with which many of us are at least familiar).

I admit, I'm having trouble understanding the difference. I'm also having trouble understanding why it's my responsibility to educate the educators as to my child's impairment and how best to accommodate him. I know I've beaten this horse before, but Bob is neither the first nor only child to carry this burden--shouldn't educators have a greater awareness of psychiatric illness and its effects on the classroom?

JBRF recommends I attend this meeting armed with every possible bit of information I can print about Bob's diagnoses (in layman's terms, of course) to present to the IEP coordinator. I'm supposed to rehearse the meeting beforehand, and possibly enlist others to attend on Bob's behalf--i.e., his psychiatrist or an attorney.

iep4Gee--nothing daunting about those recommendations.

At this point, I don't think I need to call in reinforcements (certainly not at upwards of $200 per hour). I do, however, plan to spend more time reviewing the legislation and how it corresponds to what I think Bob's specific needs are. Thankfully, Demitri Papolos, MD and Janice Papolos* drafted a sample IEP geared toward children with bipolar disorder, with which I will be familiarizing myself, as well.

Will my own knowledge be enough? The school's IEP/504 coordinator is the school counselor, who I have known to be less than knowledgeable about Bob's illness (or anyone else's, for that matter). Will my arsenal of factoids and propaganda be sufficient to get Bob what he needs to be successful in school--now, and as he moves on to middle and high school?

I don't know. It may eventually come down to calling in reinforcements, as the JBRF recommends. I hope not.

And I hope they know I'm willing to "go there" if I have to.

*Regardless of one's opinion of the highly controversial Papoloses, I think we can all agree--as parents, we can use every bit of help we can get.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2011, October 11). IEP and 504 Education Plans for Children with Bipolar Disorder: Parent Preparation and Planning, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

July, 26 2022 at 11:44 am

As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I feel your pain and frustration.
As an educator (talking to a frustrated parent), here are some things to keep in mind:
No one (typically) knows your child better than you, so your input and partnership are valued.
There are hundreds or more impairments out there. It is unrealistic to expect educators to be experts on them all. As with any job, there are some areas in which you learn as you go.
Therefore, you (the parent) should be (or become) more of an expert on addressing your child's impairment than the school staff. (If they also have the expertise, what a blessing!)

Alexis Brett-Bacon
January, 20 2012 at 4:21 am

My son is not responding to traditional school paradigm, and I'm beginning my quest to find the right answers. Homeschool?

Liz McLennan
October, 13 2011 at 4:30 am

In school, we are learning about Person-Centred Planning - specifically WITH not simply FOR a person. A crucial part of the planning sessions (which are ongoing, not simply a one-off meeting in boardroom somewhere) is to include the people who share the focus person's life - those who love and care for him, not just paid professionals. (You, his father, siblings, etc.)
Am NOT taking away from the need for an IEP, but the focus, educationally-speaking, is more about slotting Bob INTO a framework as opposed to CREATING a framework that works around Bob. See the difference?
At the very least, being able to clarify what it is that you want for Bob and more importantly, what BOB wants for Bob, might make you feel more in control/confident/good about these meetings.
Here's a a link to what I'm describing - there are many, many agencies claiming to create PCP, but this links you to the best kind, in my humble opinion.
At any rate, I'm thinking of you and hope you'll update as you move through this very daunting process. Best of luck!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Angela McClanahan
October, 13 2011 at 4:37 am

@Liz--thank you for the link--i will definitely be checking it out. i honestly don't care for the way bob's situation has been handled by the school so far, and i'm sure that's not likely to change without some head-butting on my part. the concept you describe sounds much more effective for everyone involved. and i'll definitely be updating. ;)

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