Children with bipolar disorder often experience mood swings several times a day, known as ultra-ultra rapid cycling. Children may not always exhibit the extreme mania often seen in adults.
Parents whose kids have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder often report noticing their children were different as early as infancy. Babies were restless, hard to comfort, slept little and had severe separation anxiety.
Toddlers, preschoolers and elementary-age children may be bossy, defiant and have huge tantrums when they don't get their way. They are often hyperactive and restless, and may have a hard time with transitions. They may go from very happy and excitable to sad and withdrawn quickly and for no apparent reason.
Bipolar disorder can seriously affect children's home, school and social lives. Their symptoms can lead to behavioral difficulties, and peers may not understand why their friend behaves the way he does, and grow frustrated with his mood swings. Untreated bipolar disorder can even lead to suicide.
Children with bipolar disorder are usually treated with a combination of psychotherapy and mood stabilizers. Antipsychotic drugs may be used if mania is accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices or extreme aggression. The outlook is good for bipolar children who receive early and adequate treatment.
The Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation estimates that nearly 1 million children in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder. The actual number of bipolar children may be significantly higher---children with bipolar disorder are frequently misdiagnosed with other disorders, especially attention deficit disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.