How much do you know about learning difficulties? Banish myths and misconceptions and get the facts right here from experts in the field.
In a recent podcast episode of Neurodiversity Matters, Chief Executive of a neurodiversity charity, Dr Tony Lloyd, and learning difficulties specialist teacher, Jannine Harris came together to answer questions related to learning difficulties. Throughout their discussion, they dispel common myths and misconceptions of learning difficulties.
Neurodevelopmental disorders can be part of a neurodiversity paradigm
Learning difficulties are part of a neurodiversity paradigm and rarely occur alone. They also have a strong genetic link.
Interviewer: Who gets learning difficulties?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “It’s genetic in origin…it’s been around for as long as humans have been around. It often comes with other neurodevelopmental differences.”
Jannine Harris: “We used to think that [learning difficulties] happened on their own and increasingly now we understand that they are part of a neurodiversity paradigm and actually these conditions rarely happen alone.”
Diagnosis of learning difficulties can be challenging, but life changing
Although there are several tests that can be performed to diagnose learning difficulties, such as observational questionnaires and computer tests, they are often picked up through noticing unwanted behaviour in classrooms. However, presentations vary between individuals, especially between genders. Despite this, receiving a definitive diagnosis of a learning difficulty can be empowering and liberating.
Interviewer: How are learning difficulties diagnosed?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “Often picked up because we notice that some children are hyperactive…The reason children are moving is because it’s the body’s natural way of producing more dopamine so they can concentrate. The hyperactivity is helping them at school. It’s just that it’s often seen as a distraction.”
Interviewer: Tony, do boys and girls show the same signs of learning difficulties?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “It can actually present quite differently in girls…More often than not we miss it in girls…Girls are picked up much much later than boys if at all.”
Interviewer: …And Jannine, you have learning difficulties, don’t you?
Jannine Harris: “I do. I didn’t find out until I was 41…The difference between knowing or not knowing was life-changing. My children have [learning difficulties]. They were diagnosed before I was. And actually, it was really empowering for me as a parent. It changed me as a parent, it changed me as a person, it made me a better person for knowing that it was part of my children’s dynamic and that was part of my dynamic.”
A diet including omega 3 is essential for brain health
Healthy food choices for people with learning difficulties is critical for daily function. Omega 3 in particular is essential for brain health and has be backed up by extensive evidence. Along with foods such as oily fish and nuts, omega 3 can be taken through supplementation in a variety of forms.
Interviewer: Should children avoid eating sugar. Does diet play a big factor in it?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “We need fuel for our brains. And children need fuel from food to concentrate…Our diet needs lots of different minerals and vitamins, and omega 3 supplements as well…absolutely essential for good brain health and successful learning.”
Jannine Harris: “Children with [hyperactivity] are more susceptible to craving sugar in the first place…Can definitely aggravate conditions by giving too much sugar, but sugar is not the cause of [hyperactivity].”
Interviewer: Tony, you mentioned Omega supplements?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “There’s been a mountain of research over the past 20 years. Omega 3 is not something that we naturally produce in our own bodies. We need it from our diet. We know that there are foods that are very rich in omega 3, such as oily fish and certain nuts. We strongly recommend that children and adults take omega 3 supplements as part of a healthy nutritional regimen.“
Interviewer: What evidence do you have?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “There’s been a mountain of independent scientific research done from a number of different researchers and universities globally that prove beyond any doubt that omega 3 supplements are absolutely an essential nutrient in terms of brain health and particularly for children because we know that we can’t produce it naturally.”
Interviewer: How does taking omega supplements help the brain?
Dr Tony Lloyd: “About 60%1 of the brain is made up of fatty acids, which is why we need fatty acids for healthy brain growth.”
Omega supplements can help children with learning difficulties2-5
Jannine Harris: “I first started using the Equazen products when my daughter was first diagnosed with [learning difficulties] at the age of 8 and I did not know how to help her. So, I introduced her to them.”
Dr Tony Lloyd: “A lot of children are very fussy eaters and a lot of children like a lot of sweet foods…One of the things I like about the Equazen brand particularly, is that there are all different kinds of varieties. There are chews that taste really sweet but are actually really good for children.”
Jannine Harris: “…And liquid form for those who can’t swallow tablets…Particularly with [learning difficulties where] they can often struggle to swallow a tablet.”
People with learning difficulties can achieve great things
The experts concluded that being diagnosed with a learning difficulty doesn’t stop you from achieving.
Dr Tony Lloyd: “There’s absolutely no reason why neurodiverse people can’t be happy, healthy and achieve their potential.”
Jannine Harris: “[It] makes things harder; it does not make them impossible.”
Did you know?
Lots of famous actors including Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Mark Ruffalo and Cameron Diaz have all been diagnosed with learning difficulties.
Listen to the full Podcast here!