About learning disabilities

A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops.

There are many different types and most develop before a baby is born, during birth or because of a serious illness in early childhood.

A learning disability is life long and usually has a significant impact on a person’s life. Learning disability is not mental illness or dyslexia.

Any impairments that cause a learning disability are present from childhood, and are not acquired as a result of accident or following the onset of illness.

Somebody with a learning disability is said also to have ‘significant impairment of intellectual functioning’ and ‘significant impairment of adaptive/social functioning’.  This means that the person will find it harder than others to learn, understand and communicate, remembering new things and relating to new environments is also difficult.

People with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) need full-time help with every aspect of their lives – including eating, drinking, washing and dressing.

There are different types of learning disabilities which can broadly be divided into three categories: academic skills disorders (such as problems with reading or writing), speech and language disorders (including difficulties with pronunciation, articulation or understanding other people), and problems with motor skills and memory.

Measuring impairment

There is still much debate about the best way to measure significant impairment and the impact impairments have on someone’s ability to live day to day.

Psychometric tests are most often used to determine a person’s intellectual functioning by measuring Intelligence Quotient (IQ). The presence of a learning disability is generally identified by an IQ result of 70 or less.

Intellectual impairment

  • 50-70 mild learning disability
  • 35-50 moderate learning disability
  • 20-35 severe learning disability
  • below 20 profound learning disability

Measuring the degree of impairment of social functioning is equally difficult. Some social impairments can be life threatening such as been unable to eat, drink or keep warm, but others such as communication and social skills can impact on a person’s everyday life in society.