Understanding learning disabilities
There's a lot of confusion about what learning disabilities are, and how they are caused. TheSite.org tells you everything you need to know, served up clear and easy.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability affects your capacity to be taught or to communicate in some way. It can manifest itself in the way you listen, speak, write, reason or perform mathematical calculations.
There are different types of learning disabilities which can broadly be divided into three categories: academic skills disorders (such as problems with reading or writing), speech and language disorders (including difficulties with pronunciation, articulation or understanding other people), and problems with motor skills and memory.
What is a syndrome?
In medical terms, a syndrome describes a health condition made up of a number of characteristics. Learning disabilities are considered to be a common factor in syndromes such as Down's, Fragile X, Turner and Williams syndromes.
Some learning disabilities can be more of a challenge than others. It's estimated that 1.5 million people in the UK are living with a learning disability, from mild to moderate, severe and profound. In addition, 25% of all 16-24-year-olds report having a long-term illness or disability (Social Exclusion Unit, 2005).
If you have a learning disability, it doesn't necessarily mean you have impaired intelligence. What's affected is the way information is processed in the brain - for example by sight or sound.
Some people with learning disabilities may also have physical disabilities, and require a great deal of care. Others enjoy independent lives. With support, where required, a learning disability does not have to prevent you from achieving the same goals as anyone else.
What causes a learning disability?
Learning disabilities occur for many different reasons. Generally, it's related to the brain's development before, during or soon after birth, and sometimes in early childhood. Often, however, the cause is unknown.
Living with a learning disability
Learning disabilities last a lifetime. It isn't something that can be cured, nor can you grow out of one. However, a learning disability can be successfully managed, by equipping the person with the right skills, and providing them with all the support they require. It begins, first and foremost, by recognising if you, or someone you know, has a learning disability.
Recognising the signs
Symptoms of a learning disability can vary according to the individual, and also by age from childhood through to adolescence. For example, it may be evident that someone has difficulties reading (an indication of dyslexia) or a problem focusing on one task (attention deficit disorder, or ADD). However, it isn't always that clear cut, especially when a young person is living with a combination of different learning disorders that remain undiagnosed. Ultimately, only a health care professional can diagnose a learning disability.
During adolescence, hormonal changes and the increase in workload at school or college can bring some learning disabilities to the surface. It might be anything from a marked decline in performance or ongoing problems with friendships due to difficulties with social skills. A sense of frustration can also kick in, as that person becomes aware they're finding it hard to achieve their true potential. Classic learning issues to watch out for include:
- Finding ways to avoid writing or reading;
- Slow work pace and/or short attention span;
- Poor spelling and/or literacy skills;
- Misunderstanding or misreading information;
- Difficulty dealing with abstract ideas;
- Problems in structuring ideas and essays.
In terms of social behaviour, young people with learning disabilities may also display some of the following:
- Problems in compromising and negotiation;
- Easily influenced by peers;
- Difficulties embracing other people's ideas, and accepting criticism.
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!