Support for people with learning disabilities at Unisus
The level of learning disability experienced can range from mild or moderate through to severe or profound. No two people will have exactly the same level and combination of learning disabilities. This means the level of support needed depends very much on the needs of the individual. At Unisus we offer a full range of personal care and support. It may simply be help with household chores for someone with a mild learning disability. Whereas someone with severe learning disabilities may not be able to communicate well and need full time support. Rest assured, we will work with you and your loved one to offer the right level of care for them.
What are learning disabilities?
A person with learning disabilities is likely to have a group of conditions that will affect how they interact with other people and the environment they live in.
This means that
- simple tasks such as household chores may be challenging to complete
- communicating their needs and wants may be especially difficult
- living independently may be a dream lifestyle but only be possible with support
- taking in new information, making sense of sounds, images and events can be difficult and stressful.
People with a learning disability will take longer to learn even the simplest of things. They will usually need support to develop new skills, but, with that support, they can go on to live enriched and even independent lives.
Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK are diagnosed with a learning disability, but, sadly, only 1 in 3 people with learning disabilities participate in education or training of some description.
7 out of 10 families report they have reached or ‘come close to breaking point because of lack of support and short break services (Source: Mencap)
Please call us on 0191 908 9384 to talk about your personalised support options for you or your family member coping with a learning disability.
What is the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty?
There is no universally agreed definition of either ‘learning disability’ or ‘learning difficulty’. These terms are often used interchangeably but are not exactly the same.
Mencap defines a learning disability as a ‘reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday tasks’.
A learning disability cannot be cured, it is a lifelong condition. For example, someone with Down’s Syndrome can also have a learning disability. However, with support, people living with learning disabilities can enjoy as independent a life as possible.
However, a learning difficulty does not affect intellect. Conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia may create hurdles to learning new information and even problems with everyday tasks but are not caused by impaired intellect. People with learning difficulties are usually of average or above average intellect and one of the symptoms is a gap between potential and actual achievement due to specific learning difficulties.
What are the causes of learning disabilities?
There is no one single cause of learning disabilities. A learning disability occurs during the development of the brain. This can happen before, during or even after birth. The following list indicates some potential causes but is not exhaustive and a diagnosis can only be confirmed by a medical health professional.
- Hereditary or genetic factors
- Teratogenic (alcohol, drug use during pregnancy)
- Environmental factors (malnutrition poor health care)
- Medical factors (diabetes, blood group incompatibility)
- Chromosome abnormalities (Fragile X, Down’s Syndrome, Turners Syndrome)
- Premature birth
- Prolonged labour
- Complications (lack of oxygen to the brain)
After the birth
- Head injury
- Lack of oxygen
- Nutritional deprivation
- Childhood illness (meningitis)
- Poisonous substances (lead poisoning)
What are the different types of learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities are caused when the brain cannot process the information it receives. The processing problems can lead to issues in developing basic skills such as reading and writing or maths. The development of higher operational skills will also be affected. For example, attention span, time management, organisation, short and long-term memory functions.
It is important to make the distinction between learning disabilities and learning difficulties. Learning disabilities impact the intellectual thought processes of an individual. Whereas learning difficulties cause problems with how they learn but does not affect their intellectual reasoning. Some people will have a combination of both learning disabilities and difficulties.
Learning Disabilities include conditions such as:
- Fragile X
- Cerebral Palsy
- Down’s Syndrome
- Williams Syndrome
- Challenging Behaviours
- Global Development Delay (GDD)
- Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
One of the most common causes of learning disabilities, individuals with Fragile X share certain physical features. These include a narrow face with a prominent jaw bone and ears.
Most boys born with Fragile X will have a learning disability. However, only 33% of girls with this condition are affected by a learning disability. Fragile X has a more profound effect on males than females. Regardless of whether they’re male or female, no two cases of Fragile X will be the same.
Some symptoms of Fragile X are restlessness and an inability to settle or relax. People with Fragile X can be easily distracted and have a short attention span, and senses can be heightened making them oversensitive to things like loud noises, bright lights.
In itself, cerebral palsy is not a learning disability but some people with cerebral palsy may also have a learning disability. The effects on people with cerebral palsy can vary from mild to severe and everyone will be affected differently.
Cerebral palsy is caused a lack of oxygen or illness that injures the brain before, during, or soon after birth. Diagnosis usually occurs at birth or in early childhood.
Cerebral palsy is when the messages from parts of the body to the brain are interrupted. Some people will be affected physically. As a result, movement, posture and co-ordination will be affected. Others may suffer from seizures, or language and speech difficulties.
Down’s Syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome at cellular level. Although it’s a genetic condition it isn’t hereditary and happens at the moment of conception.
People with Down’s Syndrome are recognisable by certain physical features and will also have some level of learning disability.
A lifelong condition, people with Down’s Syndrome may have other common health issues such as hearing and sight problems, or heart conditions.
Williams Syndrome can affect anyone. It is a genetic condition that may cause additional medical and developmental issues and accounts for the physical features in people with Williams Syndrome. A child born with Williams Syndrome may be the only one in their family with the condition but there is a 50% chance of passing it on any children they may have.
Children with Williams Syndrome tend to be friendly and sociable. They often display excellent verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.
However, there may be life-threatening health issues, including infant cardiovascular issues. They may struggle with spatial abilities, abstract reasoning and numbers. They often find daily tasks a challenge.
Adult sufferers of Williams Syndrome need supported living to reach their full potential. Many individuals with Williams Syndrome hold jobs or voluntary work. Due to their social nature, people with Williams Syndrome need opportunities for normal connections with others. After the structured environments of family or school, adults with Williams Syndrome can suffer from intense isolation and severe depression. People with Williams Syndrome find it difficult to form long-lasting relationships and can struggle to interpret social cues.
Challenging behaviour is not classed as a learning disability. However, people with a learning disability are more likely to display challenging behaviours.
The term ‘challenging behaviours’ is used to describe behaviour that challenges parents, family members and teachers, carers and other professionals.
The physical manifestation of challenging behaviour can include hitting or kicking others, throwing things and having tantrums or self-harming. Behaviour is classified as challenging if it can potentially harm the person and/or other people nearby, or if it prevents them from achieving their full potential, a normal daily life, have difficulties in making friends or focussing when at school or college.
Coping with challenging behaviours can be exhausting and stressful. The most mundane daily activities can become complicated and escalate to dramatic events very quickly.
Challenging behaviours can occur when people with learning disabilities express frustrations due to communication issues. It may also be a sign they are in pain or distressed at something they cannot express normally.
Global Development Delay
During child development, a range of milestones are used to measure their progress. Global Development Delay is a term used when a child’s progress is delayed, and they don’t reach the milestones until later than expected. The milestones used include walking, climbing, talking and social interactions.
People with other conditions such as Williams Syndrome or Down’s Syndrome may also have Global Development Delay.
With support, sometimes the delay in development can be overcome through therapy, socialisation and practical help. In other cases, the delay may be much longer and could indicate a learning disability.
Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
Individuals with Asperger’s do not usually suffer from speech delays in their early years. However, some may still have a learning disability to overcome.
Asperger’s is on the Autism Disorder Spectrum, and about 50% of people with autism will have a learning disability.
You can find more information about autism and Asperger’s syndrome here.
How can Unisus help support people with learning disabilities?
There are strategies that can help with all sorts of learning disabilities, some specific to the condition, some more general.
For example, we can help the person by
- Spending time with them doing the things they enjoy
- Helping them to find ways to express themselves (images, word cards)
- Identifying triggers which may make them upset, anxious or angry (certain people, environmental factors)
- Developing stress-reducing strategies (breathing, counting slowly)
It helps to have a strong support network, including family, friends and professionals like Unisus experts to call upon when it becomes necessary.
You are not alone in coping with your own or a family member’s learning disability.
Please call us on 0191 908 9384 to talk about personalised support options for you or your family member coping with a learning disability.