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There is no doubt that allergy-induced illness, such as asthma and hay fever, may cause a child’s school work to suffer because of absenteeism, or the child feeling below par. Whether learning difficulty can itself be a form of allergic reaction, as is suggested in some quarters, is unlikely. Those who make such claims have not produced satisfactory evidence to support their assertion.

The practice of putting children with specific learning difficulties on allergy diets to improve their performance or behaviour is controversial. The reliability of blood and skin tests for allergy in these children is also questionable.

If a child is put on an allergy diet, this should be supervised by a doctor to ensure that the child is receiving adequate nutrition. The best way to evaluate the diet is for an independent observer, such as the teacher, to monitor the child’s performance without knowing when he is on the allergy diet and when he is eating normally. It is important that the observation extends over a period when the child is on a normal diet, then on the allergy diet, and is finally back on a normal diet again. The child’s learning should improve on the allergy diet and deteriorate when the normal diet is recommenced.

If a child is on a diet, he should still receive conventional educational help according to his needs.

Children with specific learning difficulties are sometimes put on a gluten-free diet in an attempt to help solve their problem. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and oats. The only condition known to be associated with gluten sensitivity is coeliac disease, a condition unrelated to specific learning difficulties. Coeliac disease should only be diagnosed by a paediatric gastroenterologist (a specialist in the stomach and intestines of children).

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