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News & Blog » The Challenges of Relationships for People with Learning Disabilities

The Challenges of Relationships for People with Learning Disabilities

Published on 14th Nov 2016
Encompass Blog and Updates

The vast majority of us want to find that special someone; after all, it’s a perfectly normal part of life.

Long term relationships can provide us with comfort and happiness and this is the reason why so many people place such an emphasis on finding a spouse.

However, for people living with learning disabilities, it can often be hard to maintain or even start a relationship as a result of the personal and social challenges many encounter.


Social isolation is common amongst people with learning disabilities and this can be largely due to behavioural issues and trouble with social interaction.

To put this into perspective, around 34% of adults with a learning disability meet with their friends no more than once a year.

This issue is intensified by the fact many of these individuals are often educated away from local schools in specialist facilities.

Whilst this can help in providing more tailored education, it can also become detrimental to a person’s social skills as they can find engaging in conversation and meeting new people difficult.

When in a relationship, it can often be hard to tolerate the other person’s behaviour as many people with learning disabilities find both understanding and expressing emotions a challenging concept to grasp.

For instance, individuals living with autism can often experience difficulty with showing affection to those around them as the idea of love does not come as naturally as it does to those without a disability.

These issues can become especially problematic when one of the people in a relationship does not live with a learning disability as the contrast in personalities and behaviour can become divisive.

Furthermore, people living with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other similar conditions can often favour repetitive behaviour and established routines.

Consequently, the natural ebb and flow of conversation can be hard to accept and this makes developing relationships challenging for many.

People with autism can also struggle to pick up non-verbal signs from their partner which could otherwise help them to identify whether they are bored, offended or interested in a certain topic of conversation.

The behaviour of people with learning disabilities can often be perceived as ‘inappropriate’, when in reality, this is not the case. For relationships to work partners must be considerate of each other and identify the best way to deal with can sometimes be challenging circumstances.


People living with Autism, Asperger’s and other learning disabilities can still enter into and maintain long term relationships, however, both members need to be respectful of each other, perhaps more so than in a ‘typical’ relationship.

Finding a partner is an important part of life for everybody and, if you or someone you know is living with a learning disability, it’s crucial to take positive steps in order to facilitate the development of a relationship.

Being aware of your idiosyncrasies, respectful of your partner’s behaviour and learning when to give each other some much needed space will help to keep any relationship strong and can be especially helpful for individuals living with learning disabilities.

Encompass is a registered charity helping to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities and mental health issues.