Learning Disability

Here we are going to consider what a learning disability is, consider some of the causes of a learning disability, provide some examples of learning disability and signpost you to services which specialise in working with such a group of people.

Research has shown that between 2001-2021 people with learning disabilities will make up approximately 2 per cent of the general population in the UK (Emerson and Hatton, 2004).

From these figures it can be generalised that there would be approximately 9,030 people with learning difficulties from Chinese backgrounds within the current population in England (Partridge, 2013).

Learning disability is a term used that referees to people who ‘…function at an intellectual level that is significantly lower than the average level of people in society’ (Thomas, 2004, p.11).  Government policy which focuses on learning disability (Valuing People, 2001, p.14) defines learning disability as something that includes:

  • A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with;
  • A reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning);
  • which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

The main causes of a learning disability can be separated into two groups, ‘genetic’ and ‘environmental’ although these are not mutually exclusive (Thomas, 2001).  People with a learning disability may have experienced a developmental impairment of the brain either before birth, during birth or during childhood.  However, the cause is unknown for approximately one-third of people with learning disabilities (The Arc, 2001).  For example, the cause of a learning disability may be related to (Thomas, 2004, p.24):

  • genetic disorders, e.g. phenylketonuria
  • chromosomal deviations, e.g. Down’s syndrome, Fragile-X syndrome
  • cranial malfunctions, e.g. hydrocephalus
  • congenital factors, e.g. maternal disease, substance exposure, prematurity, perinatal concerns
  • psychosocial and environmental factors.

These causes can be explored further by visiting learning disability organisations such as BILD, Mencap and Foundation for people with learning disabilities.

However, some people use other terms to mean the same group of people.  For example, learning disability is used mainly by practitioners within social care and health organisations in the United Kingdom; learning difficulty is used by some people with learning disabilities (People First) and their supporters and intellectual disability which is used more internationally.

If you need more information on learning disability, then please click on these leaning disability organisations links below:

It is important to remember that whatever cause, label or diagnosis people with learning disabilities have been given, they are people first.  It is not about concentrating solely on identified classification, it is also about spending time to get to know and understand the individual person holistically (Thomas, 2004).