Anyone who followed American Idol finalist Dalton Rapattoni had their hearts touched every week as he illustrated with his voice not only the intense lyrics of the songs but, more importantly, the inspirational story of his battle with bipolar.

A child begins what will be a lifelong journey with bipolar disorder before knowing or being identified with the condition because the symptoms are not easy to diagnose.

There could be many rationalizations for behavior exhibited during manic episodes—simply testing the limits with risky behavior, going through a particularly hyper and active time in their development, lacking focus due to not enough sleep. The same goes for the depressive episodes—they may be going through a growth spurt to explain the pain and tiredness, something may have happened to trigger a bout of sadness, they could be going through the normal awkward phases of self-esteem issues and self-doubt.

All of these are easily explained away while, in the meantime, a child is left wondering why they feel like they do and why they are struggling so hard in school and with their friendships.

It is critical for parents and educators to be closely in tune with the needs of students, especially when it comes to emotional issues. Bipolar can be a harmful, confusing, and difficult battle for children, making them feel alone and hopeless. Obtaining a professional diagnosis, support, and treatment is vital to getting them back on track academically and flourishing in their relationships and self-confidence.

Sometimes, traditional education may not be the best approach for students coping with bipolar disorder. The symptoms of bipolar can often be better addressed in a more adaptable educational environment. Online learning is a great option for parents of kids with bipolar because it gives them the ability to learn at their own individual pace and style.

Dalton Rapattoni found that to be the case and decided to attend a K12 online school, Texas Virtual Academy. By attending a virtual classroom, Dalton was able to succeed academically while he and his family properly dealt with the challenges of life with bipolar. The success he achieved at school was simply the beginning for him, though, as he continues breaking the chains of bipolar to take on the music world and pursue his inspirational musical career.

It is important to note for students that, even though the battle is hard, there is hope and a bright future in store for them. As proof of this, Dalton was kind enough to share with Learning Liftoff some words of insight and encouragement based on his experience as a student with bipolar.

Learning Liftoff: Prior to getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder, what was the first indication that made you or your family suspect there may be something different?

Dalton Rapattoni: Honestly, I was so young I don’t really remember being diagnosed, and I think I’m lucky for that. I cried a lot, I know that, and I remember being in our garage and hearing my mom talk about bipolar disorder and being really confused; but other than that, I don’t remember too much about that part of my life.

LL: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome academically? How did Texas Virtual Academy, and an online education, help with that?

DR: I had a lot of behavioral issues growing up. I’d get in a lot of fights, and I’d kick and scream all of the time. I was always frustrated because my school didn’t work at my pace, it worked at the pace of the class. So when I enrolled in TXVA, I finally got to work at my own pace and got my work done much faster.

LL: What has been the most effective therapy to help you in living with this? How can family (and school) best help support a student struggling with the symptoms?

DR: My most effective therapy is alone time. At the end of the day, I really need to decompress and be with my thoughts. I think parents can help their kids out by just giving them a little space. I’ve met people who lived most of their life not knowing what was wrong with them. Their parents just think they’re lazy or combative, when it’s really not their fault, and that’s pretty sad.

LL: What is the biggest misconception or stereotype about bipolar disorder that you want to see go away?

DR: The biggest stereotype I’d like to see go away is the misconception that all people with bipolar disorder are shut-ins. I’m a pretty severe introvert, but I still go out and interact with people every day, and most people I know with bipolar do as well. Some people I meet never know that I have it, because I’m medicated in a way that fits me.

LL: For young students just discovering they are bipolar, what advice or encouragement would you give to them?

DR: I would just tell them that it does get better. The symptoms don’t ever go away, even if you take medicine for it, but you do eventually get better at being bipolar. You start to notice when it’s just your brain talking and not how you really feel, and there’s catharsis in that.

LL: If you could describe life with bipolar in one sentence, what would it be?

DR: It’s been a long, squiggly line.


For Dalton, this long, squiggly line has led him to fame with American Idol, a successful music career, but more importantly his ability to “get better at being bipolar.” So it can be for your student. Life with bipolar disorder does not have to cripple or define, it can bring out inner strength to accomplish dreams far beyond what is customary or expected.

We would love to hear from other students and families who have overcome bipolar, so please share your inspirational stories in the comment section below!

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