Most people’s learning disability occurs from birth or a childhood illness and the effects are life-long. It's important that people find the right, personalised support to lead a full and interesting life and have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Learning disabilities are many and varied. Most people recognise some of the better known syndromes such as Down’s syndrome, Rett syndrome and Fragile X, but there are lots more and some people may not have a name or known cause of their learning disability.
A learning disability can affect someone in a wide variety of ways. The terms ‘mild’ , ‘severe’ and ‘profound’ learning disability are sometimes used. Some people with learning disabilities live independently without much support whereas others require 24 hour care to perform most daily living skills. (See below for more information on complex needs).
People with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) may also receive support through learning disability services, however they may have different types of support needs than people with learning disabilities will have.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autistic Spectrum Disorders are developmental conditions present from birth (although are not always immediately obvious) and last throughout a person’s life. These conditions are diagnosed by identifying Wings and Gould’s (1979) ‘triad’ of behavioural impairments:
- impaired social interaction
- impaired social communication
- impaired imagination
Autism affects approximately 1% of the population in the UK.
It is identified by a core group of behavioural features and diagnosis can only be made from an individual’s behaviour and the history of difficulties presented. People with Asperger syndrome tend to have fewer problems with language, although they are likely to experience difficulty with social communication.
The concept of the autistic ‘spectrum’ reflects how autism may occur in ‘isolation’ (e.g. Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism) but can also occur in combination with learning difficulties/disabilities.
People with more complex needs
If a person has complex needs they will have a range additional support needs such as physical and sensory impairments or challenging behaviour. Although policies relevant for all people with learning disabilities should address their needs as well, there are guidance documents which are specifically relevant to some people with complex needs. They focus on the importance of developing local services:
Sometimes the term Profound, Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) is used.
Empowering People with Learning Disabilities
There is no reason why people with learning disabilities shouldn't have access to all the same things that everyone else does in our society, such as; paid work, a home of their own, choice over how they spend their time and who with and a say in who supports them and how. The new personalisation agenda being implemented by the Government will hopefully make this a reality as people with learning disabilities and their families take more control over the support they receive.
Our work is all about removing labels and prejudices about what people who have a learning disability are capable of and the level of contribution they can make to society.
If you’re interested in reading more about the debate about labels, Netbuddy have conducted a survey on this subject. You can read more on their website