Living with a learning disability: Support and benefits available

A learning disability is different for everyone. Some people can work, have relationships and live independently, while others may need support throughout their life.

In the UK alone, 1.5 million people live with a learning disability. However, with the right support most can lead independent lives.

Read on to find out more about learning disabilities, receiving a diagnosis and the support available.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a lifelong condition that affects the way people learn new things. Mencap defines a learning disability as a ‘reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities’, which can include tasks such as household chores, socialising or managing money.

As a result, those with a learning disability usually take longer to learn and may need support developing new skills, understanding complex information or interacting with other people.

However, as the NHS website states, a learning disability is different for everyone – no two people are the same.

What are the different types of learning disabilities?

There are various types of learning disabilities, and these can be mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Mencap states that it can be difficult to diagnose a mild learning disability. This is because it’s not as easy to identify, as individuals can usually socialise and cope with everyday tasks without assistance. However, people with mild learning disabilities may need support in other areas, such as when filling out forms.

Those with a severe learning disability or profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD) will need support in a range of areas, including with mobility, personal care and communication. People with a moderate learning disability can also need support with these things, but this varies between individuals.

Mencap also notes that it’s important to recognise the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty. Learning difficulties include conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD. Unlike a learning disability, learning difficulties do not affect intellect.

How to get diagnosed with a learning disability

A learning disability can be diagnosed at any time. Some children may be diagnosed at birth or during early childhood if a parent notices a difference in their development. Some people may not receive a diagnosis until they are older.

If you are looking for a diagnosis for yourself or a loved one, talking to your GP is the first step. If your GP suspects a learning difficulty, they will help put a plan in place by referring you to specialist learning disability services.

Although getting a diagnosis can feel difficult, it’s an important step to accessing the right support. You can read more about learning disability diagnosis on Mencap’s website.

Smiling boy helping older man

What support is available for people with learning disabilities?

The level of support a person needs depends on the individual. Someone with a mild learning disability may only need help with things such as applying for a job. However, someone with a severe or profound learning disability may need full-time care and help with every aspect of their life.

For children with learning disabilities, health, education and social care services work together to decide what support is needed, and put a plan in place to support them until they are 25 years old. For adults, the social care department of their local council works with them to find out what support is needed. This is decided through a ‘needs assessment’ – there is more detail about this on the NHS website.

On the Mencap website, you can find a list of services that the charity provides help with, including getting a job, moving into your own place or finding social events in your area. Or, you can contact the Learning Disability Helpline for help and advice on what support is available, either for yourself or for a family member.

Financial help for people with learning disabilities

If you or someone you are caring for has a learning disability, you may be entitled to financial benefits. What you are eligible for will depend on your personal circumstances.

For instance, you may be eligible for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) if you’re aged between 16 and 64. These payments can help towards the extra costs disabled people face, such as paying for support around the home.

Similarly, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) may be available to you. ESA offers financial support to people who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

It’s worth looking at the full list of benefits available on the GOV.UK website, or using Cadent’s benefits calculator to see what financial help your household might be entitled to.

Further reading

Additional support at home

Alongside reablement, staying independent is about having peace of mind that you’re not going to be left cold or in the dark if the heating or electricity fails.

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is an important, free support service which is designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply. If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help ensure you or they can access the best possible services at all times, and feel safe and independent at home. 

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