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Older woman supporting her friend who has a learning disability

How to Support Someone With a Learning Disability

17 August 2023

There are approximately 1.3 million people in the UK with a learning disability, including 950,000 adults aged 18 or over. To narrow that down, Healthwatch Essex discovered that “Around 21,133 18 to 65-year-olds with a learning disability reside in Essex”.

There are many different types of learning disabilities, which can have a minor or major impact on a person’s life. Each disability requires special care and attention, so it is important to understand how to support someone living with it.

There are steps you can take to help someone who has a learning disability. Supporting the individual requires care, patience and understanding.

In order to tailor support to their needs, you can:

  • Educate Yourself: Learn about their disability. What symptoms do they have? What do they find challenging?
  • Take an Individual Approach: Communicate with them in a way that works for them. For example, a slower pace of conversation.
  • Be Patient: Allow them to take manageable steps in order to make the learning process more achievable.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects the way a person learns and processes information throughout their life. Having a learning disability does not define a person’s intelligence; instead, it reflects a specific difficulty in understanding a form of learning.

Learning disabilities can impact a person’s skills in a way that is often learned traditionally, including:

  • Communication
  • Mathematics
  • Organisation
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

While some people may be diagnosed with one learning disability, it is not uncommon to be diagnosed with a Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD). This is when a person has a severe learning disability, as well as other disabilities, that can affect their ability to communicate and gain independence.

People diagnosed with PMLD require support with their verbal and physical communication, such as speaking and moving. Depending on the severity of the person’s disability, they may need supported living assistance.

PMLD could include a number of common types of severe learning difficulties, including:

  • ADHD: (known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), affects a person’s behaviour. It challenges the way they concentrate, and means they can act without thinking. It can also cause restlessness.
  • Dyslexia: affects the way you comprehend reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Dyspraxia: interferes with your coordination skills, such as driving and balance. It can also impact your fine motor skills, including writing and using small objects.
  • Dyscalculia: impacts your mathematical skills, such as difficulty with understanding numbers, figures, and challenging calculations.

Learning disabilities vs learning difficulties

Although the terms “learning disability” and “learning difficulty” are often interlinked, there is a difference. It is essential that you understand whether or not the person you are caring for or supporting has a difficulty or a disability because one requires more support than the other.

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual condition that affects a person’s learning and process of information.

A learning difficulty does not affect a person’s overall learning ability. Instead, it is an obstacle to a specific form of learning (such as mathematics) and can be helped with training.

Read our blog for a more in depth guide: Learning difficulty vs Learning disability: What is the difference?

Is a learning disability a mental health condition?

Mental health charity, Mind, does not define a learning disability as a mental health condition. Nevertheless, some learning disabilities do experience mental disorders with their diagnosis. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reported:

“People with a learning disability who also have communication difficulties, autism, sensory impairments, sensory processing difficulties and physical or mental health problems (including dementia) may be more likely to develop behaviour that challenges.”

It is important to note, people who are diagnosed with a learning disability can experience mental health problems. For example, someone with Down’s Syndrome could be treated differently to someone who is non-disabled, causing them to feel low, anxious, and depressed, as a result of disablism.

Common challenges faced by people with learning disabilities

Whether you are caring for or supporting someone with a learning disability, it is necessary to make sure they are able to express their rights and choices, just like any other person. They must be able to live their lives with as much control as possible, with guided assistance if needed.

In order to do so, people living with a learning disability should have support for the following challenges:

  • Communication: Long words and complicated sentences can be difficult to understand; so ensure that you are able to use words with a large font, speak at their pace, and consider using signs and symbols, which are available at Makaton.
  • Personal Support: If the person is unable to look after themselves independently, you may need to assist them with personal care, such as going to the bathroom, eating, and maintaining good hygiene.
  • Socialising: A person with a learning disability may not feel comfortable in a social setting, especially in a new place or with new people. In order to maintain a good social life, it is important to ensure they are able to feel relaxed in a social environment and avoid stress. This can be something as simple as visiting friends, going on a walk, and doing hobbies they enjoy, such as painting.

Caring for Someone With a Learning Disability

Every person’s needs are different, so it is essential that you understand how your support can help your loved one. Although a disability might prevent them from carrying out personal administration, such as managing their finances, they may not need any assistance in a social setting.

Other requirements can include driving them to appointments if they are unable to drive. Every learning disability is different, but it is about supporting the things they struggle with whilst balancing their independence.

If you are able to provide a supportive and understanding environment, it can greatly enhance the person’s quality of life and overall well-being.

What do you do if you think you have a learning disability?

Many people live with a learning disability without even knowing it. It can be overwhelming and difficult to understand, but it is important to get a diagnosis and get the help you need. The first step is understanding if you may have a disability.

You may have a learning disability if you:

  • Struggle to understand information
  • Have difficulty with reading, writing, and learning (including maths)
  • Issues with memory
  • Are unable to keep up with communication, such as struggling to keep up with the pace and language of a conversation
  • Experience coordination problems

If you feel that you may have a learning disability, it is very important that you speak to your doctor. They can run a series of tests that will assess whether or not you are considered to be disabled.

Often, feelings of low self-esteem and frustration from your lack of ability in certain areas can lead to depression. Yet, it is not your fault; it is a condition that needs help. Speak to your doctor, get diagnosed, and get help.

What support is available?

If you or someone you know has a learning disability that requires support, we are here to help. We understand that finding the right help is not always easy, which is why our professional care helps those with learning disabilities access the resources they need.

If you live in the Essex area, you can contact your local council for further information on getting support for a learning disability. They are able to provide help with using important health services, such as your local GP or hospital.

Other useful contacts include:

  • Equality Advisory Service: a helpline that assists people with their equality and human rights.
  • Mencap: for advice on everyday living, as well as friendships and relationships.
  • Respond: help for anyone with a learning disability who has experienced abuse, violence, or trauma.
  • Real Life Options: social support and care for those with a learning disability.

Talk to us about care support for you and your loved one

At Butterfly’s, we are devoted to helping people across Essex with the care they need. We take pride in our professional team of carers and coordinators, who provide a personal approach when looking after our clients.

If you would like to learn more about getting support for yourself or your loved one, contact us today.

Talk to us

We are more than happy to speak to you regarding any of our services or for some general advice.
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