Making an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder in a child or teen is difficult, but can be important so that disruptions to development are kept to a minimum. Often parents have the clear sense that something is wrong with their child, but are not able to find a professional who can give them the answers and the direction they need. One recommendation is to locate a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, or a licensed child psychologist, particularly one with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists are physicians (MDs or DOs) who’ve attended four years of medical school and three years of additional general medical and psychiatric training (internship and residency), followed by two years of a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. To become board-certified they must pass rigorous tests in both adult and child-and-adolescent psychiatry.
Admittedly, finding a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist can be a challenge. In addition to your insurance company’s provider list, sources of referral might include:
• The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Their website includes a lot of useful information for parents, as well as a “Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder.” www.aacap.org
• An evaluation clinic at a medical school that has a child-and adolescent psychiatry training program. A list of programs (over one hundred nationwide) is available via the following link to the AACAP website: www.acgme.org/adspublic/. The advantage to this approach is that your child will receive an extensive evaluation that will be overseen by one, or more, of the medical school’s faculty members. The down side is that some clinics only offer evaluation, while others will provide both evaluation and ongoing treatment. The ones that provide only evaluation, however, will typically assist with referrals.
• The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation.This web-based not-for-profit parent-to-parent organization run by parents of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder includes, as a public service, a state-by-state search engine for child and adolescent specialists. Their web site is: www.bpkids.org