Learning Disabilities

What is a Learning Disability?

The NHS describe a learning disability as affecting the way a person learns new things throughout their life. There are approximately around 1.5 million people in England who have
a learning disability (House of Commons Library, 2023).

Learning disabilities are different for each person and will affect individuals in different ways.

There isn’t a single known reason as to why someone has a learning disability. However, it can be because of the brain development being affected either before or during birth and early childhood.

The NHS say that this difference in brain development can be caused by things such as:

  • The mother being ill during pregnancy
  • Not enough oxygen getting to the brain during birth
  • Genes passed down from parents which increase the
  • chance of a learning disability
  • Illness or injuries during childhood

Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate, or severe, but they will always be lifelong.

Identification and Diagnosis:

The type of signs that you should be looking out for will differ depending on the learning disability, however, there are some general signs to be aware of.

Some examples of these in adults are:

  • Trouble with reading or writing
  • Problems with maths
  • Struggling to concentrate or pay attention
  • Clumsiness
  • Organisational problems
  • Difficulty understanding instructions or social norms

The signs in children will diff er from those above and are usually recognised in early life.

Getting a diagnosis for a learning disability needs to be carried out by a specialist. In both children and adults, the starting point is to contact your GP. The GP will then talk to you about the signs that you have been noticing and move forward with arranging an appointment with a specialist if necessary.

Legal Rights:

There are certain acts that protect people with learning disabilities. Everyone has the right to live a satisfying life and it’s important to have legislation in place to allow those with learning disabilities to have the same opportunities as others.

The first act is the Human Rights Act (1998). This is the law that protects all human rights within the UK. There are 16 human rights that are protected under the act, and it means that there is a legal duty on public officials and bodies to respect these and make sure they’re protected.

The next is the Equality Act (2010). This means employers and wider society need to make reasonable adjustments to ensure equality. The basis of the act is to make sure people with disabilities are given equal opportunity and access to services by making these adjustments.

The final act is called the Health and Care Act (2022). This law states that all regulated health and social care providers are given the relevant training on learning disabilities and autism.

Supporting someone with a learning disability at work:

The type of support you offer someone will depend on the type of learning disability they have. There are many different methods, tools, and adjustments you can use to offer support and help in the workplace.

Some basic examples of adjustments that could be made are:

  • Invest in special computer apps that can help those with
    hearing or sight problems
  • Use larger text in documents or emails
  • Use picture signage around the building for those who
    struggle with reading
  • Clearly layout instructions using easy to follow language
  • Include images along with text
  • Allow people to change the colour of text on screen if needed
  • Try to avoid speaking quickly and quietly
  • Try to provide a daily routine to the workload
  • Use facial expression and gesture to express your emotions and
    enforce what you are communicating with them
  • Check they’ve understood your instructions before ending the
    conversation or meeting

Support and Resources

Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPDL)
British Institute of Learning disabilities (BILD)