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What conditions are associated with a learning disability?

  • By Abi Hart
  • 15th November 2022

By Hannah Crampton

If someone has a certain condition, they may be more likely to have a learning disability. Every learning disability and condition is unique to the individual. A lot of people who struggle with a learning disability will typically have more than one diagnosis. In this blog post we will discuss some of the associated conditions and explain a little bit more about them.

What is Down’s Syndrome?

Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that is caused by having an extra chromosome. It usually occurs at the time of conception rather than being inherited.

A person with Down’s syndrome will typically have a learning disability, however the degree of the learning disability can vary for each individual.

What are symptoms of Down’s Syndrome?

  • Flattened face
  • Small head
  • Short neck
  • Protruding tongue
  • Upward slanting eye lids 
  • Unusually shaped or small ears
  • Broad, short hands with a single crease in the palm
  • Relatively short fingers and small hands and feet
  • Excessive flexibility
  • Tiny white spots on the coloured part (iris) of the eye 
  • Short height
  • Poor memory

A child with Down’s syndrome will need support in developing certain skills, and may take longer for a child to reach certain milestones. They may also still need support when they are an adult, each individual’s needs will vary.

Someone with Down’s syndrome can still live a happy and fulfilled  life with the right support, opportunities and care. There are however some health conditions associated with Down’s syndrome such as heart problems and issues with sight and hearing. 

What are the different types of downs syndrome?

  • Trisomy 21- 95% of Down’s Syndrome cases are this type. This is when a person has 3 copies of chromosome 21. Usually we only have 2, meaning instead of the typical 2 copies in every cell, they have 3. This is caused by abnormal cell division during the development of the sperm cell or the egg cell.
  • Mosaic Down syndrome- This form of Down’s syndrome is rare/ A person may only have some cells with an extra copy of chromosome 21. This is caused by abnormal cell division after fertilization. 
  • Translocation Down syndrome- This syndrome occurs when a portion of chromosome 21 becomes attached to another chromosome. This happens before or at contraception. These children usually have two copies of chromosome 21, but they also have additional genetic material from chromosome 21 attached to another chromosome.

What is William’s Syndrome?

William’s syndrome is a rare genetic condition affecting around 1 in 18,000 people in the UK. It occurs randomly and can not be passed on from a parent to a child.

William’s syndrome may affect an individual in many ways and symptoms will vary for each person, however many will also have a learning disability.

How does William’s syndrome affect someone?

Someone with William’s syndrome may portray some distinctive facial features including a wider mouth with a pronounced bottom lip, slightly high and round cheeks and gapped teeth. William’s syndrome could also affect the individual’s mental health. They may struggle with depression or anxiety later in life.

People with William’s syndrome may also be extremely friendly and talkative. William’s syndrome will affect a child’s development. A child may take longer to learn how to walk, talk and develop other skills in the future.

How does someone get diagnosed with William’s syndrome?

This syndrome can be quite hard to diagnose, you would be best contacting your GP about your concerns. Early diagnosis can help you get the support you need.It is believed William’s syndrome is caused by a tiny piece of information in a chromosome missing. A blood test can be conducted to determine if a chromosome is different, which can help the diagnosis process.

What are some symptoms of William’s syndrome?

William’s syndrome will affect everyone differently, however some early signs of the syndrome are:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Low birth weight
  • Slow growth
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Difficulty feeding
  • hernias

With the correct support someone with William’s syndrome can live a happy and fulfilled life. This may include physical, speech and language therapy.

For support, please contact the Learning Disability Helpline, or visit the William’s Syndrome Foundation website

What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong condition also known as autism spectrum disorder. Autism itself is not a learning disability, however more than 50% of autistic people have a learning disability.

How does autism affect someone?

Someone with autism may affect how one interacts with others in a social situation. They may struggle to communicate with others. This will affect their experiences in life

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Someone with Asperger’s syndrome will see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. People with Asperger’s syndrome will not usually have a learning disability, however they may struggle with anxiety and certain learning difficulties.

What is Pathalogical Demand Avoidance (PDA)?

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a form of autism which may affect the way a person communicates and relates to other people.

People with PDA may experience challenges such as specific learning difficulties, but their central difficulty is that they are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This avoidance is rooted in an anxiety-based need to be in control.

What are some signs of autism? 

Autism will be different for every individual however these are some common signs:

  • Difficulty interpreting verbal and non verbal language
  • Struggles with sensing others emotions
  • Difficulty expressing emotions
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Repetitive behaviour and development of routines
  • Challenging behavior such as episodes of anger and frustration

How is autism diagnosed?

Diagnosis can be a hard time. Support is available for families through health care professionals. There is no ‘cure’ to autism, however one can be supported to live a happy life.

Signs of autism typically begin in the first few years of your child’s life, however some people may not get diagnosed until they are adults. 

Diagnosis can be delayed because health care professionals may want to be certain before concluding. People may also not receive a diagnosis until adulthood because some signs of autism can go undetected especially if they are only subtle. This is more common in women.

Typically more boys are diagnosed with autism and this reason has not yet been discovered. There is a debate between it being genetic or because autistic traits are more common in boys. Leaving many women without a diagnosis.

Each autistic person is different, and the impact their condition has on their life will vary depending on many factors. These will include the severity of their condition, any additional diagnoses, and whether they display any challenging behaviours.

While some autistic people will need very little extra support, others will need more specialist, even 24 hour, help. Each autistic person will have their own likes, dislikes and characteristics just like everyone else, which will also affect the kind of support they want and need. Support and coping strategies need to be tailored to each individual. Finding out your child’s strengths and weaknesses will also help.

Once your child has received a diagnosis, the next step is to think about the services and support your family will need for the future.

Leeds Mencap can offer information, advice and services to people with a diagnosis of autism and learning disability.

  • For information and advice about autism and learning disability, contact our Learning Disability Helpline.
  • Find out more about Leeds Mencap’s services and the support they can offer, or search for a local group near you.
  • For autism support, visit The National Autistic Society’s About Autism pages.
  • For Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), contact the PDA Society.
  • The Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) can also offer support and advice if your son or daughter displays challenging behaviours. Visit the CBF website or call their family support line on 0845 602 7885.
  • Getting support for the rest of the family is also important. SIBS can help brothers and sisters to come to terms with their sibling’s disability. Visit the SIBS website or call 01535 645453.

What is Fragile X Syndrome?

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition affecting boys more severely. It can cause a variety of problems in one’s life, affecting language, emotions, behaviour and social skills. Fragile X syndrome is the most inherited cause of a learning disability.

Nearly all boys who have Fragile X syndrome will have a learning disability, whereas only a third of girls will. 

The degree of the learning disability will vary, affecting how much support is needed.

How does Fragile X affect someona?

Someone with Fragile X might have a short attention span, act impulsively, feel restless, be very active, and have heightened senses. These symptoms can vary from person to person.

People with Fragile X syndrome may act like someone with autism, including shyness, following routines and struggling with anxiety.

Someone with fragile X may also have some physical characteristics such as a long narrow face with prominent jaw bones and ears. 

How is Fragile X diagnosed?

Fragile X syndrome can be diagnosed with a blood test. It cannot be diagnosed through behavioural observation. It is a genetic condition meaning it is possible to test if an individual is a carrier of the gene. It is possible to receive a diagnosis for your child before birth.

Most people living with fragile X will need support with language, speech, emotions and social skills. People with fragile X syndrome are also more likely to develop epilepsy and a rare few have autism. This is what affects someone’s need for care and support.

With the right support, it is possible for someone with Fragile X to lead a fulfilling life, in the way they choose.

Get the right support

For advice and support, and to find out more, contact our helpline, or visit:

What is global developmental delay?

The term ‘global development delay’ is used when a child takes longer to reach specific milestones compared to other children of the same age. This could include walking, talking and social skills. 

Global developmental delay may also be present in someone who struggles with other conditions such as Down’s Syndrome. 

In some cases the delay in someone’s development may only be short term and may be overcome with the right support. On the other hand the delay may be more prominent and a child may need more support. Someone may also have a learning disability as well meaning they need extra support.

How is global development delay diagnosed?

It can be harder to diagnose this condition. The sooner you get a diagnosis the easier it is to manage the condition by ensuring the right support is in place sooner. Helping each individual to live a fulfilled life.

Get in touch with us to see what support is available to you if you are the parent or carer of a child with a developmental delay.

You may also find it useful to take a look at the advice provided by the following organisations:

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a physical condition usually diagnosed at birth and it affects coordination and  movement. Some people with cerebral palsy may struggle with a learning disability too.

What causes cerebral palsy?

This condition is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or shortly after birth. This could be because of lack of oxygen to the brain, injury or illness.

What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can affect each individual differently and symptoms can vary for each person depending on how severe the condition is. Some of the following symptoms are:

  • Difficulty with muscle movement
  • Difficulty with speech or language
  • Seizures
  • Epilepsy
  • Muscle spasms
  • Walking on tiptoes
  • Shaking hands
  • Weak body e.g. arms or legs

Getting support

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, physiotherapy can help to improve posture and muscle control. There is also support available for families that are struggling. 

Please contact Leeds Mencap for support wherever you need it. Services we cannot provide specifically for you, we will help you find elsewhere.

What is SYNGAP1?

SYNGAP1 is a rare genetic condition that randomly occurs, causing learning disabilities. This condition can also cause seizures, sleep issues, behavioural issues, motor delays, language delays and emotional challenges.

SYNGAP1 is estimated to cause up to 1% of learning disabilities. People who struggle with SYNGAP1 typically have  moderate or severe learning disability, meaning they need a lot more care and support in everyday life. 

How does SYNGAP1 affect someone?

Someone struggling with SYNGAP1 may be easily distracted, behave impulsively and act aggressive towards others or themselves. They may also have an unsteady walk and low muscle mass.

People with SYNGAP1 may act in a way that resembles someone with autism, such as following routines, sensitivity to sounds and light and hand biting. They may have some physical features such as an open mouth appearance, larger distance between eyes and full eyebrows. 

These physical characteristics can not always be easy to identify in a child, meaning they may take a while to receive a diagnosis.

What causes SYNGAP1?

This condition can be caused by a change to the gene of the same name.  Most individuals with SYNGAP1 may also develop epilepsy, with around 50% of individuals with this condition also having autism. This can affect the level of support an individual needs.

How do I get a diagnosis for SYNGAP1?

Diagnosis occurs through DNA testing. This can be done with a blood test. A higher level of support is typically needed for this condition. The earlier the diagnosis the better, as a child will need this condition identified to receive the correct support while developing. 

They may need support with their speech and language, learning social skills and emotional interaction. They may also have a higher tolerance of pain than the average person.

What are signs of SYNGAP1 in a child?

  • Delayed milestones such as sitting independently, standing or walking.
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Behavioural difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Delays in developing language and speech

Eating or chewing is often difficult for someone with SYNGAP1 and can trigger seizures in a person. Some people may need to use a feeding tube to stay healthy.

With the right support, it is possible for someone with SYNGAP1 to live a happy life, in the way they choose.

For advice and support, and to find out more, contact our us on 1003 235 1332 or visit:

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