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What is a learning disability?

  • By Abi Hart
  • 21st October 2022

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is defined as a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household chores, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn things and may need extra support to develop new skills, learn how to interact with people and understand more complex information.

What support is there for someone with a learning disability?

The level of support someone may need varys based on the individual. Someone with a mild learning disability may only need a bit of extra support on the odd occasion such as applying for a new job. However, someone with a more severe learning disability will have more profound needs when it comes to support. They may even need full time care and support everyday with all aspects of their life – they may also have physical disabilities.

People with specific conditions may also have a learning disability too. An example of this is people with downs syndrome or autism can also have a learning disability.

A learning disability can often be confused with a learning difficulty. At Leeds Mencap we describe dyslexia and ADHD as a learning difficulty because unlike a learning disability, it does not affect one’s intellect. 

Discovering strengths and weaknesses when struggling with a learning disability is important; you should try to find out what aspects of your life you require extra support in to make sure you do have access to the help you need. If you are a parent who has a child struggling with their learning disability, try to observe and find their strengths and weaknesses. Praise your child for their strengths and give them confidence to learn how to manage their weaknesses.

What are different types of learning disability?

The different types of learning disability vary from mild, moderate, to severe or profound. In all cases a learning disability is a lifelong disability with no cure. Someone with a mild learning disability can often be harder to diagnose as they can usually cope with most everyday tasks and only need support on the odd occasion, often going unnoticed. 

People with a more severe or profound learning disability will usually need more support and care with tasks such as mobility, personal care and communication. People living with a moderate learning disability may vary in their aspects of extra support. For parents, your biggest concern may be your child’s wellbeing, their educational needs and future. You can support your child by encouraging them to discover their strengths and support them in overcoming any difficulties.

What can cause a learning disability?

A learning disability occurs when the brain is still developing (before, during or soon after birth). There are multiple causes of developing a learning disability. 

Before birth, problems can happen to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) that can cause a learning disability. A child can be born with a learning disability if the mother has an accident or illness while she is pregnant, or if the unborn baby develops certain genes. 

A person can be born with a learning disability if he or she does not get enough oxygen during childbirth, has trauma to the head, or is born too early.After birth, a learning disability can be caused by early childhood illnesses, accidents and seizures.

Getting a diagnosis

A learning disability can be diagnosed at any point in someone’s lifetime. A child may be diagnosed at birth, or you might notice a difference in your child’s development during early childhood. For some people it may be many years before they receive a diagnosis, while others may never receive a diagnosis at all. If you are in need of support please feel free to contact Leeds Mencap for support . Your disability does not define you. It is important to find the right support for someone with a learning disability to help them learn to manage it.

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