Learning Disabilities and Nutrient Density…Related?

Typical food for a day at school for M - apples, grass-fed hamburger patty, banana and trail mix of raisins and sunflower seeds.

Typical food for a day at school for M – apples, grass-fed hamburger patty, banana and trail mix of raisins and sunflower seeds.

My life centers around my biological children (D & M) and my school children.  D is now in 3rd grade (8 years old) and M is in 1st grade (6 years old).  The husband is involved in my life, too, but he’s a grown human and can take care of himself, more or less.  I wake up thinking about how I’m going to best take care of all of my kids.  For D & M, I think about which nourishing foods I’m going to feed them, how I’m going to have more patience today, and how I’m going to slow down and listen when they talk.  For my school kids, I think about how I can thoughtfully engage them and teach the content matter I’m responsible to teach.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a 6th grade special education teacher.  Actually, I think the PC term for me now is Specialized Academic Instructor.  Either way, I teach students with learning disabilities, ADHD, as well as students on the Autism spectrum.  Typically, these kids struggle to keep up in mainstream classrooms, so I’m there to help.  Some need only in-class support, while others may need to be pulled out and taught in a small group setting.  Some of my students’ learning disabilities stem from processing disorders, either auditory, visual, or attention.  Another set of students have a lower intellect than their peers (no other way to say that, sorry).   The causes of learning disabilities, ADHD, and Autism are up for some debate, and I hope to dig deeper into that realm here on this blog.  I’m especially interested in the role of a nutrient dense diet in the everyday expression of learning disabilities.  So, my work days are spent making accommodations, modifying school work and environment, re-teaching and pre-loading, and trying to make school an enjoyable experience for my students.  Then they eat the school lunch and I wonder….

D & M take their lunch to school every day.  The only exception came the first week of school, when D was picked to work in the cafeteria for a week.  This is an honor that each 3rd grader will get once during the year.  D was so excited and I couldn’t say no.  I never want food to be something that’s feared or “good” or “bad.”  He enjoyed his “whole grain corn dog, carrot sticks, apple, and chocolate milk.”  Another day, it was “whole grain baked chicken nuggets with Teddy Graham squares.”  I have to admit, it was so nice not having to pack his lunch and I suppose, the food quality could have been worse.  I see the allure for parents, but it’s pricey at $3.50/day!  Definitely, not part of our food budget.

As far as I can tell, my boys are neuro-typical in their development.  Academically, they are achieving at a level equal to their peers.  Behaviorally, their teachers do not complain.  The boys get along with others and have a good social circle.  I do not say this to boast, far from it, I say it because that’s the way it is.  I do not claim to be the perfect parent.  I’m sure I criticize too much, yell too much, and don’t play enough.  That said, one thing I do well, is feed them.

The majority of my students receive free or reduced price meals at school, which includes breakfast and lunch.  Typically, breakfast is pancakes or a muffin and lunch resembles what my kids get at their school (I don’t teach at their school).  Receiving free or reduced price meals means that their family qualified for it because their income is under a certain amount.  I’m the first to say that eating a diet based on high quality meats, fats, veggies, and fruits is expensive.  My husband and I have committed a fair amount of our income to living this way.  So, for a family living at or near the poverty line, access to and ability to afford such high quality food is nearly impossible.  I understand that, but can’t help and wonder, how might daily behaviors and learning struggles improve if the quality of food improved?  Are my students living in a constant state of brain fog, which exacerbates their processing disorders?  Is it due to eating highly processed and inflammatory foods?  Would my student with ADHD focus longer if gluten was removed from his diet?  Could a diet high in healthy fats, such as omega-3, affect overall cognitive functioning?

I look at my boys.  Then, I look at my students.  What’s different?  Plenty, I suppose, but diet is certainly a main factor.  Home-life, stress, sleep, and activity levels are all part of the picture of a student.  I can’t help but think that diet is a huge needle mover in helping a student to be as successful as they can be.  I’m planning to review the scientific literature to help determine the role of a nutrient dense diet in the expression of learning disabilities.  I’d love to be able to help my students and get the word out about this way of eating.  If you have any experiences to share, please do.  Are you a teacher, a parent?  Have you seen behavioral changes after making dietary changes?  Anecdotal stories, though not scientific in nature, often get us thinking about alternatives to the conventional and just may lead to changes in practice.

Back to the kitchen.  I’ve had some coconut shreds staring me in the face for about a month.  Time to put them to use in this recipe for Energy Balls (http://www.primallyinspired.com/energy-balls-with-coconut-sunflower-seeds-dark-chocolate-and-dried-cranberries-vegan-paleo/) from Kelly at Primaly Inspired.  Sounds delish.  It’s Sunday and time to get some snacks ready for the week.

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2 responses to “Learning Disabilities and Nutrient Density…Related?

  1. I work in an ABA class primarily with autistic students. I, too, am appalled at the content of many of their lunches and snacks. I have recently decided to go back to school to get my degree. I want to major in nutrition with an emphasis in autism spectrum disorder. However, after reading your post, I may broaden my emphasis to include developmental and learning disabilities of all sorts. I won’t be leaving the classroom for a few years though, as my husband must get his administrators credential first (he is a special ed. Teacher for adults with disabilities). Good luck in your quest for more knowledge in this subject. I will be checking in to gain more knowledge myself.

    • Going back to school to major in nutrition with an emphasis in learning disabilities sounds like a great blend of studies. My undergrad degree is in Nutrition Science, so I know (some)what lies ahead. Best of luck! I’d be interested in hearing about how it’s taught these days…mainstream or more of an ancestral/primal slant? Maybe you’ll let me know!

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