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Multidisciplinary Support for Learning Disabilities

Published on 24th Oct 2017
Encompass Blog and Updates

Teams are good.

Teams share the load, share responsibilities and support one another towards a common objective. Much like a community.

However whereas a community is made of a random roster of people that changes from one year to the next due to simple act of population migration, a team is put together based on individual skills and abilities and what they can bring to the commonality.

Essentially they are made up of experts. Or at least the good ones are.

When it comes to supporting someone with learning disabilities, surrounding them with experts makes complete sense.

Whilst there may be a primary point of contact – be that a social worker or a carer – expecting them to have all the information, knowledge or experience to answer every question, organise every meeting and co-ordinate every service is a perfect opportunity for things to get missed, bottle necks to occur or mistakes to get made.

It simply isn’t logical to expect one person to be a ‘jack of all trades’ when masters of one are sat waiting and able to assist.

Multidisciplinary working allows all the relevant experts to come together and work with the individual to agree the best level of support and an approach that puts the individual at its centre.

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By having a single assessment process that covers all the various facets of an individual’s support it eliminates paperwork and allows all involved parties to work from the same document, overlapping where they need to.

What this generally means is that things speed up. Because there aren’t multiple assessments and professionals pulling in opposite direction things tend to go a lot smoother.

But why is this is important for individuals with learning disabilities?

Simply put: empowerment.

Individuals with learning disabilities have to overcome a varying numbers of challenges in order to achieve some of the same objectives as those without learning disabilities.

By co-ordinating the individual with professionals who can give advice, put in place systems and access to services, they are able to achieve their goals.

However one of the biggest challenges faced by anyone engaging with social services or any third party is the imbalance that can occur between the expert and the individual.

Without a joined up way of working that involves all parties, the expert can make decisions based on their knowledge, bypassing the individual’s needs, wants and specified outcomes.

It’s important that this doesn’t happen as the individual always has to come first – not what is perceived to be best for them.

It’s an important distinction as whilst the advice or proposed actions may be of benefit to the individual, they have a right to hear the facts and make a decision – even if that decision is to not follow that approach.

Whilst this may seem counter-productive in terms of providing an individual with support, the most important aspect in a multidisciplinary approach is making sure that the individual’s personal objectives are met.

If those objectives are incompatible with a proposed way of working then the individual has the right to decline, just the same as someone without learning disabilities could.

Whether or not this is good sense is irrelevant – an individual’s personal set of challenges does not override their right to self-determination.

For the individual the most important element is that they feel supported and listened to.

This is so important because depending on the severity of their learning disabilities, an awful lot of decisions can be made for them. Maintaining that autonomy and working within the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act– and with it their dignity – should be at the heart of the person centred approach.

After all a support network of professionals who can provide expert advice almost on demand is invaluable but if it doesn’t advance the individual’s goals then it is ineffective.

The most successful multidisciplinary teams aren’t always the ones who achieve the most but have the happiest service users.

That, to us, is a job well done.