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What is a learning disability?

‘A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life’
Mencap – The Voice of Learning Disability

Everyone who has a learning disability is an individual and they experience life and learning disability in a unique way.

Learning disability occurs due to the brain not developing as it is supposed to. This sometimes happens before the child is born, during birth or as a young child for example early childhood illness, accidents and seizures.

A learning disability refers to someone who has an IQ lower than 70, who are intellectually delayed in every aspect of their life.

The level of support the person needs depends on the degree of disability:

  • Mild learning disability
  • Moderate learning disability
  • Severe learning disability
  • Profound and Multiple learning disability

The person with a mild learning disability may need some support with some of the more complex aspects of daily living, but may live a reasonably independent life; for a person with a severe learning disability they may need more support with keeping themselves safe, support with running their home whereas a person with profound learning disabilities will require 24 hour care with all aspects of daily living.

Learning disability is not a disease to be treated, it is a lifelong condition. Learning Disability Services are therefore centred on providing the right support throughout a person’s life, so that they are given opportunities to develop, learn new skills and become as independent as possible.

Although conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Autism are associated with a learning disability, they are not necessarily an indicator that the person has a learning disability - even though they often co-occur.

Often the terms learning difficulties and learning disabilities are used interchangeably – but it important to distinguish between them.

  • A person with a learning disability will be intellectually delayed in every aspect of their life, this will have been present since childhood and is a lifelong condition
  • Whereas a person with a learning difficulty will have difficulty in learning that is more specific for example – dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia
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