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Learning Disability

Introduction

What is a learning disability?

Learning Disability is a general term that refers to individuals who find it harder to learn, understand and communicate. Other terms that are used to describe an individual’s situation include complex needs or high support needs.

Learning Disability may also be referred to as Intellectual Disability.

Internationally three criteria are regarded as requiring to be met before a learning disability can be identified or diagnosed, these are:

  • intellectual impairment (IQ)
  • social or adaptive dysfunction combined with IQ
  • early onset

A diagnosis is the formal identification of Learning Disability, by a health professional such as a clinical psychologist.

Having a diagnosis may be helpful for 2 reasons:

  • It helps people with Learning Disabilities (and their families) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them.
  • It enables people to access services and support.

Children have a learning difficulty if:

  • They find learning much more difficult than most other children their age.
  • They have a disability that makes it difficult or stops them from learning with their age group at one of their local schools.
  • Without special educational provision/additional support they would find learning more difficult than other children their age and not be able to participate in learning alongside other children at a mainstream school.

Definition

The SEN Code of Practice gives this definition:

‘Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them’ (Code of Practice, paragraph 1:3. The government has issued a Code of Practice which sets out the procedures which schools and local authorities should follow for helping children with special educational needs).


Diagnosis

When a child’s disability or additional need is identified at birth (or even in the womb) the doctor or midwife will refer you to a specialist at the hospital who can help you understand the implications of the diagnosis. You will be informed as to how the disability or additional need will affect the development of your child and how best to accommodate their needs during early life. This is typical of conditions like Down’s syndrome.

Other types of disability, special educational needs or medical conditions are not immediately obvious and are identified later in a child’s life - for example a hearing or vision impairment or learning difficulty.

The first point of contact to understand your child's diagnosis of special educational needs or a disability is your GP and any specialists your child has been referred to. You will then receive ongoing support from the specialist services who will help you come to grips with how a disability or additional need will affect your child’s daily life, what kinds of educational provision your child may need and what services are available to you as a parent.

Support available

There is a wide range of support available for children with a learning disability, which can be found in our directory.

Last reviewed: 28/09/2017

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