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While researchers have attempted to address the difficulties of diagnosing affective disorders in the intellectually disabled population, diagnosing bipolar disorder in an individual with severe intellectual disability (ID) remains a challenge. The aim of this study was to identify what symptoms can predict a diagnosis of mania in the intellectually disabled population.Three groups of persons with ID participated in this study: (1) individuals with a bipolar diagnosis who were currently manic; (2) individuals with an Axis I diagnosis other than bipolar disorder; and (3) individuals without an Axis I diagnosis. Two recognized measures of mania (i.e. Diagnostic Assessment for the Severely Handicapped-Revised and Parent Version of Young Mania Rating Scale) were used to evaluate symptoms of mania. A logistical regression procedure was conducted on mania items to identify which items correctly identify persons with ID who were currently manic.Psychomotor agitation, decreased sleep, changes in mood and aggression were significantly related to the diagnosis of mania. Further, psychomotor agitation and disturbed sleep were significant predictors of a diagnosis of mania.Problems of sleep and psychomotor agitation should alert clinicians that further assessment of bipolar symptomatology is warranted. Focusing on observable behaviours based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-IV criteria can be useful in formulating a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in persons with ID.