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A Scary Bipolar Child Story

Meet Max.

He’s a 10 year old who’s gone through a lifetime of trials and tribulations already.

And he was profiled in this story in Newsweek about children with bipolar disorder.

Max had an unusual childhood, according to the article:

Max never slept through the night, and neither did she. He cried for hours at a time. He banged his head against his crib and screamed until his face burned red. Nursing, cuddling, pacifiers—none of them helped. At 2 a.m., at 3, at 4 and 5 and 6, Amy cradled her son, trying to believe this was typical infant irritability, the kind her friends with kids had warned her about. It must be colic or gas, she thought, as Max howled another day into being. Exhausted, mystified, she made jokes—he was born on Halloween, she ate too many spicy chicken wings before delivery—trying to explain how a baby too young to hold up his head could raise such hell.

After a year, the jokes gave way to worry. Max was reaching and surpassing his milestones, walking by 10 months and talking in sentences by age 1, but he wasn’t like the babies in parenting books. Richie carried his son to the backyard and tried to put him down, but Max shrank back in his father’s arms; he hated the feel of the grass beneath his small bare feet. Amy gave Max a bath and turned on the exhaust fan; he put his hands over his ears and screamed. At 13 months, he lined up dozens of Hot Wheels in the same direction, and when Amy nudged one out of order, he shrieked “like you’d just cut his arm off.” At day care, he terrorized his teachers and playmates. He wasn’t the biggest kid in the class, but he attacked without provocation or warning, biting hard enough to leave teeth marks. Every day, he hit and kicked and spat. Worries became guilt. Amy had been overweight and dehydrated in pregnancy. Was Max so explosive because she had done something wrong?

At two, the chief of child psychiatry at Tufts-New England Medical Center, Joseph Kankowski, diagnosed Max with bipolar disorder. Yes, you read the right — age 2. (I’m not sure how you differentiate an “irritable mood” in an infant at age 2, as opposed to a normal infant’s irritable mood.)

You’re then led on a journey through the next 8 years of Max’s life (along with the frustrating journey of his mom and dad, dealing with a medical profession that clearly has no idea what’s going on with Max).

As CL Psych notes, 38 medications later, Max has found a set of treatments that seem to be working for him. (CL Psych has some good commentary about the article in general, worth your time.)

This is a part of a bipolar article package for Newsweek and includes advice for parents of bipolar children and what leading experts in bipolar disorder say about the biology of bipolar disorder. As usual, other factors that play an important role in the development of bipolar disorder — the psychological and social factors — are given short shrift and bipolar disorder is mis-labeled throughout the article as a medical “disease” (it is a mental disorder, not a disease — these terms have specific meanings for a purpose).

We’re always happy to see a human interest story such as Max’s in a mainstream magazine, but we do wish the reporter worked harder to present a more balanced picture of this issue (and the controversy surrounding the diagnosis of this adult disorder in children).

A Scary Bipolar Child Story

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). A Scary Bipolar Child Story. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 May 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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