What is a learning disability?
The government states that a learning disability is a “significant impairment of intelligence
and social functioning acquired before adulthood”.
This means that people with a learning disability will have difficulty with:
• Difficulties with learning new things, remembering, understanding and problem solving.
• Difficulties with communicating, looking after themselves, daily living skills such as
cooking and cleaning, telling the time and managing money.
Acquired before adulthood means
• Some people are born with a learning disability, (this may be genetic or can be caused
during pregnancy or birth).
• Other people’s learning disability is caused by illness or an accident during childhood.
• Sometimes there is no known cause.
At least two in every hundred people will have a learning disability.
See Also: Benefit of disability in work place
What a learning disability is not
• It is not an illness – it is a lifelong condition, which means that people will always have
some difficulty with learning. However, there is a lot that can be done to help people
learn new skills and develop.
• It is not a mental health problem although some people with a learning disability can
develop mental health problems. People with a learning disability are more likely to
develop mental health problems.
• It is not a specific “learning difficulty” (like dyslexia) which affects a specific area of
learning. School reports might say a learning difficulty but this is not the same as what
is meant by learning disability.
• It is not autism – some people with a learning disability might have autism as well, but
it is not the same thing.
Levels of learning disability
• Mild – might have problems in some areas but manage ok in other
areas and need support some of the time.
• Moderate – might have problems in more areas and need support a
lot of the time.
• Severe/profound – might have problems in more areas and need
support most of the time. This includes people with profound and multiple learning
Why do people often not know they have a mild learning disability?
Some people might have had great difficulty at school, struggle to get a job and cope with
life without the help they need. This may be because their families have helped them, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed and this stops them from getting the help they need.
Courtesy of NTW