There is increasing evidence that abnormalities of fatty acid and membrane phospholipid metabolism play a part in a wide range of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.

This proposal is discussed here in relation to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia) and the autistic spectrum. These are among the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, with significant implications for society as well as for those directly affected.

However, controversy still surrounds both the identification and management of these conditions, and while their aetiology is recognized as being complex and multifactorial, little progress has yet been made in elucidating predisposing factors at the biological level.

An overview is provided here of the contents of this Special Issue, which contains a selection of reports from a unique multidisciplinary workshop involving both researchers and clinicians. Its purpose was to explore the possibility that ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism fall within a phospholipid spectrum of disorders. This proposal could explain the high degree of co-morbidity between these conditions, their aggregation within families and relation to other psychiatric disorders, and a range of associated features that are already well known at a clinical level.

The existing evidence for fatty acid abnormalities in these disorders is summarized, and new approaches are outlined that have the potential to improve both the identification and the management of these and related neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions.