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Who do we Support?
There are many different types of learning disability. Some people with a mild learning disability do not need a lot of support in their lives. Others may need support with everyday things like going shopping, making choices or filling out forms. Some people may need extra support, especially if they also have a physical or sensory disability or have mental health problems.
About Learning Disabilities
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is not a condition in itself. To understand learning disability it is important to firstly understand what a disability is.
The World Health Organisation defines a disability as:
“An umbrella term used to describe an impairment, activity limitations, or participation restriction. Impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”
Therefore, a person with a learning disability has an impairment which developed before, during or shortly after birth which limits their ability to learn, understand or communicate, restricting the person’s ability to participate and be involved in everyday life situations.
A person with a learning disability may also have a physical or sensory disability or a mental health problem too.
There are many different kinds of learning disability requiring different levels of support. Some people may need occasional support with things like completing forms, managing money, using public transport or having a job. Some may need support with everyday things like getting dressed, shopping or help to live more independently. While others with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) need full-time support with every aspect of their lives.
It is important to think about a person with a learning disability as an individual first. Like everyone else in society a person with a learning disability have individual needs, dreams, rights and responsibilities. It is not helpful to think of a person with a learning disability as part of a group of people who sit outside of ‘mainsteam’ society.
Causes of a Learning Disability
A learning disability usually develops before, during or shortly after birth.
Things can happen to the central nervous system (the brain and the 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. Genes are chemicals in our bodies that contain information about us – like how we look.
A person can be born with a learning disability if he or she does not get enough oxygen during childbirth or is born too early. After birth, a learning disability can be caused by early childhood illnesses.
A child can also be born with a learning disability if certain genes are passed on by a parent. This is called inherited learning disability. The two most common causes of inherited learning disability are Fragile X syndrome and Down’s syndrome. Fragile X syndrome and Down’s syndrome are not learning disabilities, but people who have either condition are likely to have a learning disability too.
Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome in a person’s cells – all living things are made up of ‘cells’. Chromosomes are parts of cells. All people who have Down’s syndrome have some kind of learning disability.
It is important to remember that often it is not possible to say why someone has a learning disability.
People with a learning disability may have other physical and emotional conditions associated with learning disability.
It is important to remember that none of these conditions are caused by a person’s upbringing or their social circumstances and they are not the fault of the person with the condition. An early diagnosis can help to put the right support in place for both the person with the condition and their family.
Cerebral palsy is not a learning disability, but many people with cerebral palsy also have a learning disability. It is not a disease or an illness but a physical condition that affects the person’s movement and control of their body. It is caused by a part of the brain that has not developed properly either before birth or during early childhood. There are several different types of cerebral palsy, depending on which parts of the brain have been damaged. Some people are severely affected, while in others it is barely noticeable.
People with autism see the world as a chaotic place with no clear boundaries, order or meaning. Both autism and Asperger’s syndrome are part of a range of disorders that cause communication and emotional problems. The National Autistic Society suggests that autistic spectrum disorder touches the lives of some 500,000 families in the UK. The word ‘spectrum’ is used because the characteristics of the condition vary from one person to another.
Autism is a lifelong disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them. Although autism is not a learning disability, people with autism often have a learning disability. While it is not possible to tell from the way someone looks if they have autism, people with autism have difficulty with:
- forming relationships with other people
- communicating and understanding what other people are trying to communicate
- using their imagination
As with a learning disability, people can have mild, moderate or severe autism, so some people will be able to live fairly independently with only a bit of support while others may require lifelong, specialist support. However, with the right sort of support all people with autism can, and do, learn and develop.
Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism, which causes communication and emotional problems. Because people with Asperger’s syndrome can find it difficult to tell how other people are feeling by looking at the expression on their faces or listening to their tone of voice, they find mixing with other people very hard.
While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger’s syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and they are less likely to have a learning disability. Quite often they are of average, or above average, intelligence. To try and make the world less confusing, people with Asperger’s syndrome find everyday regular routine comforting and may get upset if it is changed.
Facts about learning disability
Most people with a learning disability are treated as ‘different’. They do not have the same control over their own lives as the rest of our society and face challenges and prejudice every day.
Less than 1 in 5 people with a learning disability work (compared with 1 in 2 disabled people generally), but we know that at least 65% of people with a learning disability want to work. Of those people with a learning disability that do work, most only work part time and are low paid.
- Just 1 in 3 people with a learning disability take part in some form of education or training
- Children with a learning disability are often socially excluded and 8 out of 10 children with a learning disability are bullied
- 1 in 2 families with a disabled child live in poverty
- At least half of all adults with a learning disability live in the family home – meaning that many don’t get the same chances as other people to gain independence, learn key skills and make choices about their own lives
- 58,000 people with a learning disability are supported by day care services
- People with a learning disability are 58 times more likely to die aged under 50 than other people. And four times as many people with a learning disability die of preventable causes as people in the general population
- 75% of GPs have received no training to help them treat people with a learning disability
- Less than a third of people with a learning disability have some choice of who they live with, and less than half have some choice over where they live
- 7 out of 10 families caring for someone with profound and multiple learning disabilities have reached or come close to ‘breaking point’ because of a lack of short break services
- 29,000 adults with a learning disability live with parents aged 70 or over, many of whom are too old or frail to continue in their caring role. In only 1 in 4 of these cases have local authorities planned alternative housing