Learning disabilities take on many forms with varying degrees of severity.
They present differing challenges to those who experience them and therefore need varying levels of support.
When identified correctly, an individual is able to live their lives the way they choose when provided the right support.
All too often there have been instances of individuals living their entire lives believing themselves to be ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’ only to find that they had a learning disability.
Had it been identified during childhood or adolescence and the right measures put in place, their lives would have turned out very differently.
What is a Learning Disability?
Mencap offer a very accessible definition of what a learning disability is. A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ablility and difficulty with everyday activities.
Around 1.5 million people in the UK have some form of learning disability ranging from mild to severe. This is usually qualified as having difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills or coping independently. Someone with a severe or profound learning disability may need full time care and support with every aspect of their life.
This isn’t the same as a learning difficulty and the two shouldn’t be confused, for example Mencap describes dyslexia as a ‘learning difficulty’ because it does not affect intellect.
Learning disabilities are the result of an adverse effect on brain development either during pregnancy, during birth or in early childhood. This can be genetic, illness related or as the result of some form injury and in all cases a learning disability is life long.
Learning disabilities can be diagnosed at any point and support provided. Mild learning disabilities can be difficutl to diagnose, as often the person is able to cope with most dailiy acitivities. If you’re worried and feel you that routinely you’re not picking things up at the same pace as everyone else or struggle to cope with day-to-day living then it’s worth getting yourself assessed.
Diagnosis isn’t always easy; it isn’t always immediate and often emotionally challenging. However, if you are identified as having a learning disability, you have taken your first step towards getting the help you need and living the life you’ve always wanted. Equally for parents this can be very challenging but with the right support children with a learning disability can lead rich, full lives.
Your GP or someone from the community mental health can usually make a learning disability diagnosis and start to put you in touch with the services who can support you.
Getting a diagnosis may feel like a relief and the end of a long and difficult journey but in truth the journey is just beginning.
Will I Lose my Children?
No. Despite stereotypes, social services are not in the habit of breaking apart families and taking children away.
It’s really important to remember that just because you have a diagnosis, doesn’t make you an unfit parent. The more likely outcome is that social services will put you in touch with people to make it easier for you. Not harder.
We also recommend, if your children are old enough to understand, that you be honest with them about the challenges you face. Their understanding will strengthen your relationship and allow you to be more comfortable with your circumstances.
Once you have a diagnosis, whether it’s a mild, moderate or severe disability, the next thing you need to do is start to access services who can help you make the changes you or your dependent need to live as independently as possible and to achieve life goals.
This may not be an easy process and just because you understand why you’ve been having challenges, won’t make those challenges go away.
Equally, it’s not an excuse to regress. Whilst we’re fortunate to live in a progressive country where we can talk openly about these issues, solutions will not magically land on your lap.
It might be that you need an advocate to assist you in achieving what you want initially and if a family member isn’t suitable then there are support services available.
The most important thing is that you begin making positive change and challenge the assumptions of the past.
For some it may be worth exploring counselling or CBT in order to give you the techniques you need to think more positively about yourself and your situation.