Understanding the scope of the term ‘learning disability’ is key to realising just how diverse the range of needs is among people who have that diagnosis. People with ‘learning disabilities’ are, of course, individuals and meeting their needs very much depends not only on their diagnosis, but also on what they actually require in terms of support.
What exactly is a learning disability?
Someone who has a learning disability has a significantly lower ability to learn or understand new or complicated information, or to manage everyday tasks or skills like budgeting, making friends or completing household chores. These difficulties will affect a person with a learning disability for their whole life, though the right support can help them to cope and live independently.
Getting the right level of support is important to help someone to live and enjoy life to the full. That support could be something as simple as helping to fill in a job application form or managing bills, though for someone with a profound learning disability (possibly coupled with a physical disability), ‘support’ may involve full-time care and assistance with everyday needs such as communicating, eating and bathing.
The term ‘learning disability’ can also be applied to people with specific conditions such as Down’s syndrome, Fragile X or cerebral palsy.
Whatever the cause or nature of a person’s learning disability, putting in place good quality support that is tailored to meet their needs will greatly improve their quality of life and allow them to live independently.
Learning disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health problems
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, with little understanding of the differences between them. A learning disability affects intellect, whereas a learning difficulty (such as dyslexia or dyspraxia) does not and typically affects a narrow area of a person’s life. Mental health problems affect anyone and can be treated medically or with talking therapies – neither of which can improve learning disabilities.
Mild, moderate or severe?
Learning disabilities can be classified as mild, moderate or severe, depending on how greatly they affect a person. All learning disabilities are lifelong conditions, regardless of the level of severity.
People with a mild learning disability can manage quite well with everyday tasks