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One of the primary ways you can help your student is by feeding him or her well.  At least the past two generations should have had it, and now it’s finally here. It is a book for parents, parents-to-be, students, teachers, school and prison administrators, educational physiologists, and anyone who cares, or should care, about what they and others are eating.  They Are What You Feed Them will answer many questions concerning how what we eat can influence our personalities as well as our physical bodies.




A Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, UK, founding director of FAB (Food and Behaviour) Research, and a former teacher, Dr. Alex Richardson is one of the world’s leading experts on the effect of nutrition on psychological phenomena.  Always interested in the practical benefits of her investigations, she works closely with educational and health practitioners as well as support groups and charities, such as the Autism Treatment Trust and the Dyslexia Research Trust.  She says that she has written this book to share her discoveries on how diet can affect children’s behavior, learning and mood, and that although they are relevant to all children, she has found that these findings may be especially important to those with autism, ADD/HD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.


Dr. Richardson tells us that the material for her book comes not only from rigorous scientific research, but also from anecdotal evidence provided by persons who deal with LD students on a regular basis, and especially from mothers.   Why?  In addition to the fact that many mothers have done their own extensive research to find out what works best for their own children, the lack of professional investigation is amazing:


Truly independent research looking into how food can affect behaviour really has been extraordinarily limited, because, apart from a few charitable trusts, nobody has been prepared to fund this kind of work.  There is just no profit in it for the companies – and Government agencies and other conventional funding bodies have been either too blind, too conservative, or maybe too much ‘under the influence’ to look into this rather important area. (p. 27)


But while important to the improvement of individual lives, this book is vitally important to the improvement and safety of society itself. Better diets can reduce antisocial behavior.  Various studies done in prisons have revealed the following:


§  A study by Bernard Gesch for the charity “Natural Justice” revealed that offences fell by more than 25 percent in the group receiving active (nutritional) supplements. (p.81)


§  In one study more than 20 years ago involving 3,000 imprisoned juveniles, snack foods were replaced with healthier options, reducing the inmates’ consumption of refined and sugary foods.  There followed a 21 per cent reduction in antisocial behavior over 12 months, a 100 per cent reduction in suicides, a 25 per cent reduction in assaults, and a 75 per cent reduction in the use of restraints. (p.82)


Why haven’t these studies been followed up by governments?  And why has it taken major psychological associations in both the USA and the UK all this time to finally actively pursue this field of investigation?  We have seen a dramatic rise in criminal behavior and in the incidences of LD manifestations since the end of World War II when the use of refined and processed foods was introduced as a part of our regular diets.  Today they often constitute almost the entire food intake of many persons.  Good nutrition is vital for various mental functions like attention, cognitive functions, coordination and memory as well as for physical wellbeing, such as maintaining healthy hearts within less obese bodies.  Think of the savings to society if we needed fewer prisons.  Fewer mental health facilities.  Not so many hospitals. 


In her chapter devoted to a review of the LD spectrum, “What’s the Problem,” Dr. Richardson reminds us that a diagnosis is only a description; it is not an explanation.    She assures us that “genes are not destiny – and it’s worth pointing out that families often share dietary habits as well as genes!” (p. 54)


In order to help evaluate the claims made by the food, health food, and diet industries for their products, she offers guidelines in the chapter entitled, “Facing the Facts”.  You need to teach these kinds of evaluation techniques to your children, too.  Read food labels together when you go shopping.  Become informed consumers.


She tells us that there are three basic problems in children’s diets today:




Regarding the latter, it is good to remember that our brain is 60% fat.  This is one of the reasons why the type of fat we take into our bodies is so important.  Dr. Richardson takes us down to the molecular level to show how our bodies metabolize this core food group.  Fats are very different.  Good fats lead to mental and physical health.  Bad fats can result not only in obesity, but also in poor neural transmission, which in turn affects both voluntary functions (like thinking) and involuntary processes (like heart beat).  Some cities in the US are considering banning the use of the bad, trans fats in their restaurants.  The fast food giant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, has said that it will stop using them.  This is all good news for our children and for us if these kinds of measures really do become widely adopted.


The fats that the brain does need to function effectively are called essential fatty acids.  And it is vital that we include these nutrients in our diets, because as with vitamins, our bodies cannot manufacture them from other substances.  There are two main kinds of essential fats – omega 6 (of which we usually get plenty) and omega-3 – which many of us are lacking. Seafood is our best source of the crucial omega-3 fatty acids needed for healthy brains (and hearts, and joints).


Dr. Richardson was the lead researcher on the Oxford-Durham Study, carried out with the help of Durham Educational Authority in England.  This was the first randomized, controlled, double-blind placebo trial of dietary supplementation with Omega 3 fatty acids in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (dyspraxia), and it revealed the following:



What about supplements?  She cautions us that “supplements can be useful – but as with drugs, my view is that these should be a last resort, not the first option.  Remember that your child’s physiology has been shaped by evolution.  It’s used to dealing with foods, not isolated nutrients, and natural foods always contain numerous different ingredients in combination, as a package.” (p.99)  It is always best to get your nutrients from fresh food.


Dr. Richardson, who has the delightful style of never talking down to her audience while providing detailed and understandable explanations, takes us through a step by step tour of the alimentary canal, where our first stop is the mouth.  We learn about the digestion that begins here, and the importance of chewing each mouthful into a fine paste before swallowing.  Children mimic the behavior of others, so be sure to set a good example yourself.


Sliding through the esophagus down into the stomach we come to understand why we shouldn’t drink too much during our meals.  It dilutes the acid that is produced to ensure the proper break down of food.  She recommends drinking ½ hour before and/or after the meal to avoid thirst.


Then down into the intestines where digestion continues, the process of getting the nutrients into the bloodstream occurs, and waste materials are passed down and out.  There are some fascinating insights here, and detailed descriptions that are at times both visual and olfactory.  They will greatly help to reinforce your resolve to feed your family properly.


Dr. Richardson stresses the importance of Micronutrients (including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants) and illustrates the possibilities for disease if these essential elements are missing.  We’ve all heard about scurvy, a condition that can result from the lack of vitamin C.  But did you know that vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, together with magnesium, is essential for getting calcium into your bones?  You might drink plenty of milk and eat lots of yoghurt, but without these micronutrients, you are not improving your chances of being spared osteoporosis.  But there’s some good news.  If you get enough of bright sunlight in the summer, always taking care not to burn, you should be able to store enough of this vitamin to last you through the darker days of winter.


MACROnutrients are your major food groups, the proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  She recommends a reasonable proportion of these would consist of 1/5 protein, 1/3 fat, and ½ carbs. But, she cautions, the type and quality of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that your child consumes matter infinitely more than the overall quantities. (p. 71)


Throughout her book, Dr. Richardson takes pains to point out that while dietary changes can improve behavior, learning and mood, these are not a substitute for other approaches, and that we still need a great deal more research into the effects of diet on mental health.  Over and over again she stresses not to begin any major changes in diet without first consulting your child’s doctor.  What might appear to be a food allergy might prove to be something else, and your child might be spared having to relinquish some cherished foods.


If you read the book from cover to cover, you will run into a lot of repetition.  No doubt this is for the benefit of the reader who initially wishes information only on a specific topic.  The book is carefully structured and provides an excellent cross-referencing system for just this purpose.  And as many readers will already know, repetition is a great aid to learning.


For some there will be the usual differences in British versus American spelling to contend with (e.g. behavior/behaviour), and some differences in terminology (in the UK, squash is not only a sport, it is also a rather noxious orange drink marketed especially to children).


And while you are reading or browsing, don’t avoid consulting the excellent appendix and the references and resources section.  They provide not only important elaboration on some of the topics broached, but they also point you in the right direction if you wish to continue your research into a specific area. 


Some prime points to take away:



The bottom line is that basically there are no quick fixes.  Adopting healthy eating habits takes time, patience, and planning.  Not what we like to hear in this era of pill-popping, “miracle cures”, but then who wants to have their child receive a diagnosis of ADD/HD, autism, or any of the possibilities along the LD spectrum?  And should we have a child who has received such a diagnosis, do we not want to employ the best techniques to help that person achieve their highest potential?  But she doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves.  Strategies on how to win over your family to healthy eating and recipes to try with them are also provided. 


The information contained in this book is of great value to all of us, not just children.  But children are the most vulnerable among us, and Dr. Richardson has rightly directed her attention there. 


All of Dr. Richardson’s profits from the sale of this book will go directly to the Food and Behavior Research Trust ( ) to help fund further investigations.  All of her research into the importance of nutrition is independent of any commercial influences or interests.  A copy of this book can be ordered via  If you access this site via, a portion of the sale will also be donated to the Trust by Amazon.




Many of us don't like too many surprises, but learning-differently students tend to especially not like them.  Many of their difficulties stem from a poor concept of time, and therefore especially when they are young, they frequently need a lot of help structuring their activities.  When anticipated activities have to be changed or postponed, confusion and resentment can arise.  You can help by taking the time to carefully explain the reason for the change and what the new program will be. Time is, after all, the coin we need to spend on all children.


Because many learning-differently students have poor sequencing skills (e.g. remembering the days of the week, the alphabet, multiplication tables), they frequently forget to carry out instructions or know how to find their way when someone gives them directions.  Therefore, when the child is young:



When new activities are undertaken, Richard Lavoie, formally of the Eagle Hill School in Greenwich, CT, gives the following advice:


When a child is entering a new situation (e.g. joining the Boy Scouts, enrolling for religious instruction, starting a new school year), the parent has two jobs to do:

1.      Preparing the child for the situation (e.g. discuss, role play, etc.) and

2.      Preparing the situation for the child (if appropriate, discuss the child's needs and limitations with the coach, teacher, or adult leader). [2]


The British Dyslexia Association reminds us to:


BE PATIENT. Remember that a dyslexic child is likely to take longer to learn to do such things as tie shoe laces, tell the time, distinguish left from right, remember instructions, etc.  Make time to help and be prepared to repeat this help.  See that the child has everything necessary and a distraction-free place for homework.  Make sure that he/she understands what has to be done.


BE POSITIVE. Establish a routine and ask for the school timetable so you can help with organization.  Read aloud as much as you can.  Don't make comparisons with others in the family or at school, and don't allow others to tease him/her about difficulties.  Story books can be recorded, and some may already be available.  Build on strengths and skills.  Praise success and perseverance.  Encourage the use of the computer - many dyslexic children are particularly good at this.


BE AWARE. Watch out for signs of stress and frustration.  Talk to the teacher about particular difficulties with homework, and ask for suggestions as to how you can help.  Remember that self-organization is especially hard for dyslexic people, and devise ways of making this easier.  Remember that the dyslexic child has to make a greater effort than others and is likely to be unusually tired at the end of the school day, so avoid pressures at home.  Don't allow dyslexia to become an excuse for not trying, but understand that unusual difficulties demand unusual effort.


BE PERSEVERING. Even when your child is having special help, the difficulties will not disappear miraculously, and there are likely to be very bad days.  Develop good relationships with teachers, and don't expect information to be passed on from teacher to teacher or school to school automatically; make sure that it is.  Never give up; your continuing support and understanding are vital if your child is to have the confidence to compensate for weaknesses and develop strengths. [3] 






Below you can find some suggestions for parents on how they can help their children with their homework.  It was taken from the Dyslexia Association of Ireland website at :

Helping with Homework and Providing Support


1.     Help with homework by being close at hand to answer questions and to ensure that the child stays on task. In general it is best to let the child decide what help s/he needs from you and provide just that amount.


2.     Don't take charge of the homework or feel that you have to teach the child. That is the job of the teacher and while the child will have many teachers s/he will only have one Mum and Dad. That relationship is much too important to risk by getting into a teaching role.


3.     Limit homework time for younger children. The class teacher will tell you how long homework should take, and if it is taking much longer than normal then it should be possible    to work out an arrangement with the teacher as to how much will be done in any evening.


4.     Keep in touch with the school and keep teachers informed of how things are progressing for the child.


5.     Keep yourself up-to-date of any developments which might help. A good way to do this is by becoming a member of the Dyslexia Association, and becoming involved with your local branch.


6.     Using a computer, particularly a word processor, can be a great help to a student with dyslexia. If possible, encourage your child to learn to touch type. This could be done over the summer months and need not be a chore.


7.     Explore your local library for books which have a higher interest level than reading age. Check out abbreviated versions of classics which are designed for students learning English as a foreign language. Librarians are very willing to help, so do ask.


8.     Students with dyslexia find schoolwork more tiring than other children do, so it is important for them not to take on demanding part-time jobs during school term, particularly in exam years.


9.     If your secondary level student has not yet developed good planning and organizational skills, it would be helpful for you to do some timetabling. You can help him/her to map out the week on a wall planner, and keep track of important dates, e.g. when projects and essays are due. You may have to be more pro-active with a student with dyslexia than with your other children.


10.  Plan ahead and look to the long term. When a child has dyslexia, it may be necessary to think of ways round access to courses and qualifications. Be aware of the many Post            

Leaving Certificate courses, and how they can build up to diploma and degree status. Other parents who have been through the process are often your best source of advice.


11.  Finally, enjoy your child and let them know that you love having him or her around. Remember - it may seem like a lot of work when you have a child with a specific learning difficulty, but they grow up fast.


For the older child, technology can prove a great help:


·       The use of computers.

·       A digital watch with a date facility and a programmable alarm to help keep appointments.

·       Calculators for math.

·       Books on tape or CDs with a personal listening device so the student can be "reading" anywhere (on the bus, at the bus stop, in the street, at home); often libraries for the blind will lend audio books to dyslexics. (see Resources).

·       The use of a recording device as a memory supplement not only for lectures, but also for interviews to help remember was said or asked, and also when there is a need to ask directions.


Rick Lavoie reminds us to:


·       Remember that the child is more normal than different. Emphasize strengths and abilities.

·          Never forget that the LD child needs what all children need: love, acceptance, protection, discipline, and the freedom to grow and learn. [4] 




There can be a great deal of heartbreak, anger and frustration when it appears that nothing or little is being done at a school to help the student who learns differently. There are even people who suggest that these students do not suffer from a learning disability but rather from a teaching disability.  "I never let my schooling interfere with my education," as Mark Twain is quoted as saying.


But let us be fair.  Recognition of the problem and knowledge of effective teaching methods are still far from universal.  Many teachers today, especially teachers overseas, have had no training on how to recognize, let alone help, learning-differently students. The 1955 edition of Random House's The American College Dictionary doesn't even contain the word "dyslexia."


A teacher's job doesn't stop at three in the afternoon.  There can be special help after school or parent-teacher conferences.  There are still hours of correcting and preparation ahead.  You have one child that you are concerned about.  They often have a 100 or more each day.  And we really can't blame them if they weren't taught to teach in a multisensory manner or how to recognize students who learn differently.  So when you have a conference with a teacher, please take their situation into consideration also.  Ideally you should become a team.


Most teachers are sincerely committed to their profession, and most are willing to try new ways of getting their message across.  As Michael Thomson and Bill Watkins, co-principals of the East Court School for Dyslexic Children, suggest, "Written large in every teacher's text book should be "THERE ARE MANY ROUTES TO THE SAME OBJECTIVE."  [5]  






Before The Move


European Children in Crisis, a Brussels-based support group, offers the following advice in their excellent booklet, Children with Specific Learning Difficulties (see Useful Addresses):


Families who have not yet moved would be well-advised to consider in advance, in consultation with professionals and other members of the family, if it is better to:


·       Move and integrate the child into the local education system. (Likely to involve having to learn a new language);

·       Move and find a private school where special education is available in the mother tongue. (Likely to be expensive);

·       Move and put together what assistance they can find;

·       Reconsider the need to move at all.


After The Move


Comments from a FAWCO mother:


At the time that we moved, we did not realize the extent of his learning disability (his first and second grade teachers in the U.S. thought that he was merely a “late bloomer”). His third grade teacher at the international school was entirely untrained in the area of learning disabilities, and was utterly unwilling to accommodate his different style of learning in her classroom. It was a disastrous year.


The European Children in Crisis support group reminded us that “whatever the variants, for the English-speaking expatriate family, two hard facts remain:


  1. The range of provisions - schooling, therapists and back-up in English is likely to be less than that at home.
  2. The cost of paying for education provision, in a setting where English in not the mother-tongue, is almost always much higher.”


The good news is that most learning-differently students can be successfully mainstreamed.  But you will need to work closely with the school, keeping in mind that some of the people you might be dealing with might not be as knowledgeable as you have become on the subject.  Together you, the student, if able, and the school should consider options and plot strategies. Some suggestions are offered in the section Schools.




Tutors come in various types and with various experiences.  Some work in-class with the student, some with the student at home.  Sometimes there is a combination of at school and at home tutoring.  Sometimes these are the same person, sometimes not.  Perhaps the most important consideration is whether or not the student and the tutor are a good fit.


If you are considering hiring a tutor for your child, the Great Schools website provides an excellent article on this subject at .


Perhaps you find yourself in a part of the world where special needs tutors are few or non-existent. Perhaps you have considered becoming such a tutor yourself.  Susan Barton, formally an instructor in Phonemic Awareness and Multisensory Teaching Techniques at the University of California, and in Learning Disabilities at West Valley College, has developed a video training program for special needs tutors aimed at parents and professionals alike.


She is willing to send a free video giving a full description of the Barton Reading & Spelling System, video clips from the tutor training video tapes, sample pages from the lesson plans, and a ten-minute tutor screening to see whether or not you have what it takes to become a successful tutor using her system. To find out more information, go to




No matter when you discover that your student learns differently, the edition of the Expatriate Observer newsletter entitled, "Considerations in Moving Your Special-Needs Child Abroad," published by Organization Resources Counselors, Inc., offers good advice:


  1. At a minimum, educate yourself about your particular child's diagnosis and needs in order to advocate for and educate others about what services are indicated.
  2. Volunteer at your child's school.  Both teachers and administrators are often more supportive of a parent who is involved with their school.
  3. Maintain your relationship with the national support organization for your child's disability.  Subscribe to any publications available from these organizations so you can keep up with what is happening in the field and prepare for your return home.
  4. Arrange to return home periodically for testing and evaluation of your child.


This same edition offers a list of selected independent international schools offering services for special-needs children.



Students Who Learn Differently Overseas


by Susan van Alsenoy, AWC Antwerp




Page created 10/29/99 EvE. Last updated 03/01/11 SvA.




Copyright ©  All rights reserved.



[1] Eakin, Kay B. "Considerations in Moving Your Special-Needs Child Abroad." Expatriate Observer. Winter 1996. Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036. p. 8.

[2] Lavoie, Richard. How Difficult Can This Be? Worksheet for the video. Rosen Productions. See Resources/Tapes.


[3] Scott, Anna McNair. Dyslexia Your First Questions Answered. The British Dyslexia Association. p.6. See Useful Addresses.


[4] Lavoie, Richard. How Difficult Can This Be? Worksheet for the video. Rosen Productions

[5] Thomson & Watkins. Dyslexia A Teaching Handbook. Athenaeum Press Ltd. Newcastle upon Tyne, England. p.44.