What is a learning disability?

What does it mean to have a learning disability?

Most people don’t understand what a learning disability is!

You are born with it. It is a lifelong condition that affects a person’s intellectual ability to carry out simple everyday tasks. This means it will take someone longer to learn something new, to understand information and interact with other people. The level of the disability will vary enormously from person to person, from those who will live independently with a small amount of support to those who require intensive 24 hour support.

A learning disability is often confused with other conditions. For example, people with Down’s syndrome or autism may also have a learning disability and those with dyslexia may not have a learning disability. This is because conditions like dyslexia do not affect a person’s intellectual ability. Importantly a mental health problem is not considered to be a learning disability because it can be overcome with treatment and is not a lifelong condition.

Most people with a learning disability can, given the appropriate support, lead independent and fulfilling lifestyles.

How many people have a learning disability?

Surprisingly, nobody really knows how many people with learning disabilities live in our communities.

Perhaps the best statistical report we have available is “people with learning disabilities in England 2015: main report” published by the Learning Disability Observatory. This is an in depth and comprehensive report but it would be good to take a look at some of the headlines:-


By combining information collected by government departments on the presence of learning disabilities among people using services, overall population predictions for England and the results of epidemiological research, we estimate that in England in 2015 there were 1,087,100 people with learning disabilities, including 930,400 adults.

The number of people with learning disabilities recorded in health and welfare systems is much lower, for example GPs identified 252,446 children and adults as having learning disabilities on their practice-based registers.

This means that we have 834,654 people living in our communities with a learning disability who probably don’t access any type of statutory support.


Information from a range of sources consistently reports that people with learning disabilities in England die much younger than the general population (13 to 20 years younger for men with learning disabilities; 20 to 26 years younger for women with learning disabilities). However, as with the general population, the median age of death for people with learning disabilities is increasing.

The three most common causes of death for people with learning disabilities are circulatory diseases (22.9% of deaths), respiratory diseases (17.1%) and neoplasms (cancers) (13.1%).


The number of adults with learning disabilities in any paid/self-employment has dropped from 9,905 people in 2011/12 to 7,430 people in 2014/15 (6% employment rate), with most people (71%) working less than 16 hours per week.

Over 60% of people with a learning disability say they would like to work but struggle with things like filling in applications forms, attending interviews and fitting in in the workplace.

People with learning disabilities are more or less totally excluded from the numbers of self-employed people.

Family Carers

From 2007/08 to 2014/15, there has been a reduction in the number of family carers of an adult with learning disabilities getting a service for themselves as carers, with the number of family carers getting information/advice/signposting plateauing from 2010/11.

People with learning disabilities are often disadvantaged in the extreme but will be some of the most inspiring people you could ever wish to meet.