NADD Bulletin Volume V Number 1 Article 3

Complete listing


Survival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar Disorder: Innovative Parenting and Counseling Techniques for Helping Children with Bipolar Disorder and the Conditions That May Occur With It, by George T. Lynn, MA, MPA, CMHC, Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1 85302 921 1

Lucky for me that I volunteered to do this book review because I would not otherwise have chosen to read about Bipolar Disorder and Psychotherapy. My son is autistic and developmentally disabled with a seizure disorder, so my heart sank a little when this book arrived because I knew little about BD and I didn’t feel informed enough to comment on the information presented. As it turned out, the case studies and the described behaviors were all too familiar to me and I couldn’t read this book fast enough.

According to the web site of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, George T. Lynn, a Certified Medical Health Counselor in Bellevue, Washington, has pioneered the use of psychotherapy for adults and children with neuropsychological issues. He has a son with Tourette Syndrome and makes the point that the impact of brain chemistry on personality is independent from the impact of the environment. Parents everywhere can rejoice at this observation.

It is hard to do justice to the amount of good information presented in a scant 225 pages. The major topic is Bipolar Disorder in children and what to do about it. As well, Bipolar Disorder is discussed as it occurs with Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome and ADHD. The book also touches on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PDD and other less known disorders. It is fascinating to see how all these disorders can combine to create unique therapy challenges.

Some of the chapter subtitles are intriguing: The ‘little seizure’ of Bipolar Disorder, Tom’s Mood Shift Warning List, Anempathy and Alixithymia, Psychopathology and the X Files, The Four Habits of Highly Successful Asperger’s Families, or, Is Tourette Syndrome a Curse or a Blessing?

Normally I find books like this very good at describing the problems, but fairly useless at telling you what to do about it. However, the advice Lynn gives is logical and well thought out and it wasn’t a stretch for me to imagine that he might actually have tried out these survival tactics in the trenches&ldots;at home. The book has lots of checklists and step by step plans which make for easy reading and quick reference when you need it.

Lynn is sympathetic to the situation of parents. He is very careful not to place blame on them or their children. My experience has been that when the gloves are off, people have a strange need to blame bad behavior on someone, that is, the parent or the child. Instead, Lynn takes a more proactive stand. He seems to be saying, accept the situation, forgive yourselves, and take practical steps to reduce the stress. He is someone who sees parents as partners in the therapy and he remains clear that it is the child with the problem, not the parents. As he is the parent of someone with Tourette Syndrome, I guess he couldn’t see it any other way.

Lynn says, “it is neurology not personality that causes behavior”. No, your child is not simply a horrible person. His behaviors are as a result of his condition, and they are in fact predictable and, in many cases avoidable, if parents learn to recognize the precursors of trouble (like sluggishness in the morning or dull eyes) and are able to put their predetermined plan into action. Yes, this book does have answers although the author admits that it takes a huge amount of effort for parents to be one step ahead of their bipolar child. So, even if a parent becomes too burned out to rally their resources in time to avoid every disaster, they can at least learn how to forgive their child and themselves for feeling so damned angry.

This therapist must have a booming practice. He does such a good job of showing support for families who are dealing with BD. Some of the case studies cited sound downright impossible to resolve and I wonder why parents and therapists don’t just give up. Lynn has no end of ideas for dealing with all the problems that arise with Bipolar Disorder, and yet he understands that sometimes families may have to turn to the police or the courts. He not only acknowledges this possibility, he actually encourages families to be realistic and to save themselves when necessary. This has become an important concept for me lately. When a handicapped child arrives on the scene, everyone else’s needs suddenly become unimportant. Parents need to know that they are worth saving too.

For Lynn, rage is a key behavior and highly indicative of an underlying disorder, not just a random outburst. Even children as young as four can present such a frightening face. And Lynn notes that rage is the most common reason for families to seek out his psychotherapy practice.

 “A raging child can scar a family&ldots; The screaming, spitting, hitting, biting, throwing of objects, destruction of toys, slamming of doors, swearing, threatening, and expressions of contempt can wear a family down and kill its soul&ldots; Rage is the taking over of the cortex or thinking brain by the emotional brain-the limbic system. The screaming- laughing-crying and frothing at the mouth of the enraged Bipolar child are dramatic expressions of the limbic brain’s power and it is scary!&ldots;Bipolar rage expresses manic depression: It is not ‘meltdown’&ldots;In the meltdown, the child may scream or run from the scene or may violently resist attempts to physically control him He will cry violently, swear and spit, but his temper outburst will lack the force of Bipolar Disorder&ldots;Meltdown expresses the flight aspect of the stress reaction&ldots;In Bipolar-related rage, the child comes loaded for bear-putting the cross-hairs of his anger on any available target&ldots;Though his anger is probably not premeditated, it has a deliberate, intentional feel to it . The child will deliberately torment other children or move to an attack position with an authority figure as if challenging the adult in an attempt to gain dominance in the situation.”

It is important for a parent to know the difference between a protective, anxiety-driven rage versus an aggressive, heat-seeking kind of rage, especially when the world wants to apply physical or chemical restraint to a situation where just leaving someone alone for a while might be more effective. This has been an ongoing battle for my family. Now I feel confident that the simple response of leaving the room to let my son calm himself really is a sensible course of action. To convince others of that I may have to buy more copies of this book.

Bipolar Disorder may exist as a stand-alone issue or it may be accompanied by another disorder. Many of the kids I treat in counseling for BD also meet the diagnostic criteria&ldots;for one of three other disorders of childhood: a third of these kids show features of Asperger’s Syndrome or Tourette Syndrome. All show features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) though only about a third of kids with a primary diagnosis of ADHD show Bipolar-like features.

The most interesting observations for me are in the comparing and contrasting of Bipolar Disorder and the various conditions that may occur along with it. It’s too bad that these conditions are not mentioned right on the front cover, which brings me to my only serious criticism of the book. The book title is completely inadequate. It appears to be aimed at a very specific group, that is, parents of children who have already received an official diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. And yet on the back cover is says that BD was not recognized in children until very recently, so the target audience must be very small indeed. Probably most young children are as yet undiagnosed so there must be lots of parents out there who do not know that they need this book.

Where was this book years ago when I was desperately trying to explain to the world and myself why my son was afraid of balloons, liked to drink Louisiana Hot Sauce, and laughed when someone got hit on the head? I refused to believe that he was just plain bad, but I wasn’t too successful at convincing others of that, which is why this book should not be directed solely at parents. It would make a great gift for grandparents, teachers, friends, family doctors and all those annoying people who think that strict discipline fixes everything.

There is one problem this book cannot solve, that is where to find a good therapist. Where I live it is believed that behaviors can be cured with 15 minutes of advice and a pill. Apparently, listening time is not billable.

Even if you know no-one with Bipolar Disorder you will find this book enlightening. I read some of it aloud to my co-workers and they all wanted to borrow the book when I was done. At the very least you will gain some understanding of how the people living with Bipolar Disorder struggle to make it through the day. Parents, family, neighbors, teachers and doctors, as well as adult sufferers, will find this book informative and heartening.

Reviewed by:

Marcia Taylor
8520 Flewellyn Road
Ashton, Ontario, Canada, KDA1BO

Catch a Falling Star, A Tale from the Iris the Dragon Series, by Gayle Grass, Iris the Dragon Inc., ISBN 0-9688532-0-X

Fish is a boy who loves fly fishing. Recently he has been feeling upset, but doesn’t know why. He doesn’t always “get” what his teacher says. He has trouble concentrating and understanding in class. “My brain gets very busy and noisy and then I get scared.” By the nearby river where Fish spends his spare time there lives a dragon named Iris who, as it turns out, looks after falling stars. “Our brain can get sick”, says Iris. The dragon teaches Fish dragon breathing to relax. Fish hears noises in his head and has a chemical problem in his brain. He has to go to a clinic for awhile. Several months later he returns home feeling much better and Iris the Dragon celebrates this by shining his star and placing it high in the sky.

Catch a Falling Star is an earnest effort to present a positive message about mental illness in children. Gayle Grass and Coral Nault each have a child who suffers from a brain disorder. Two years ago they got the idea for the Iris the Dragon Series, whereby they hope to show that mental illness needs to be understood better, requires some intervention, and that it is not the fault of the child or the parent. They believe that the greatest obstacles to understanding mental illness are stigma and fear. Because mental health and mental illness are not topics most of us discuss with our children, friends, or family, the lack of public awareness persists. This book represents their effort to address that stigma and fear and to reduce the mystery of “brain illness” for young readers. Did they do that?

On the positive side, the creators of this book recognized a need and tried to fill it. When I passed this book along to a friend who has read a lot of stories to a lot of children she remarked that she had never before seen a children’s book about mental illness. Nor had I. In fact it had never even occurred to me to look for such books in the hope of finding something I could read to the younger brother of my autistic son.

I expected that a book for children would show mental illness in a good light, and this one does. However, the creators may have been too successful at tidying up the behaviors normally associated with mental illness, thereby reducing the fear and stigma, but leaving us puzzling over just what really happened. The symptoms described are subtle. Parents, teachers and doctors are supportive and kind. For Fish, the journey from feeling strange to his triumphant return from the clinic seems unemotional and glitch free. Wow. A real fairy tale.

After reading the book several times I still wasn’t sure what Fish’s problems were, nor do I know how he got better. I found it hard to understand what was so wrong with him that he had to move away from home and go to a far off clinic where doctors helped him to feel better. It struck me that children might relate a bit too much to his vaguely described problems of being angry, frustrated, and not doing well in school. Kids might get the message that their behavior and feelings were equally suspect and that perhaps they should be sent away too.

In their effort to sidestep the fearful aspects of mental illness, the creators have inadvertently demonstrated the very stigma they want to erase. Such a polite story reminds me of that old fashioned secrecy about what really happens behind closed doors. Even the otherwise highly detailed illustrations are part of the cover up. For some reason Fish is often shown with his back to us, or with his face strangely blurred which makes him an unknown quantity rather than a real person. It is hard to feel compassion for such a shadowy hero.

I wanted so much to like this well-intentioned book, especially because it was created by mothers, who are also fellow Canadians. Unfortunately it was just way too politically correct, and I ended up feeling frustrated that anyone who read it might think that brain disorders aren’t much different from other illnesses. You don’t feel quite right, you get medical help, and voila, you feel better. I guess there is a certain truth to that synopsis, however, in our household I recall that the diagnosis alone took years, that the treatments and programs were never ending and that the whole family suffered intensely for twenty five years&ldots; so far.

Where was the emotion, the anger the fear, the grief? They didn’t talk about the relentlessness, the feeling of being out of control, or the sense of hopelessness. Of course, no one would want to read such scary stuff to kids, which explains that big gap on the library shelves where the books on mental illness should be.

The story of a child living with mental illness is hard to relate, especially to children. It’s not fair, it’s not easily resolved and it’s not very funny either. However, Catch a Falling Star could be read and understood by some older children who were already familiar with mental illness and it could be used to encourage discussion about mental illness with siblings and friends.

 Some of the proceeds of this book go to the Iris the Dragon Fund, at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, to help children with mental health issues.

For those who would like to find a few more books on mental illness for younger children, try looking under Mental Illness-juvenile fiction, or Mental Health–juvenile fiction, which is how this book is catalogued.

Reviewed by:

Marcia Taylor
8520 Flewellyn Road
Ashton, Ontario, Canada, KDA1B0