Understanding
special needs

Every child is different,
but with the right support
any child with a learning disability
can lead a happy and fulfilling life.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability affects both the intellectual and social capacity of an individual, making it difficult for them to engage in everyday activities and manage independently. People with learning disabilities often take longer to process new information and need support to help develop new skills. Many also have difficulties with social interaction.

Some children with learning disabilities are diagnosed at birth, while in others the disability will not be recognised until the child is old enough to walk and talk. Learning disabilities due to a mental disability or a cognitive disorder will affect an individual for their whole life.

Types of learning disability

Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate or severe. And so while a person with a mild disability may, with support, go on to develop the skills to manage independently, someone with a severe learning disability may need fulltime care and support for their whole lives.

Mild learning disabilities can often take time to diagnose; with specific difficulties not being recognised until school age. A child with a mild learning disability can often cope well in social situations, but may struggle in other areas of development. Dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia are all examples of mild learning disabilities that may not necessarily impact long-term development.

Someone diagnosed with a severe learning disability will need more interactive care, and may also display physical disabilities that require support with mobility, personal care and communication. A diagnosis of Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD) is used when a child has more than one disability, where the most significant is a learning disability.

As the parent of a child with any type of learning disability, the greatest concern will be your child’s wellbeing and their future. As a parent you can help your child by encouraging their strengths and by seeking the right support.

What can cause a learning disability?

A learning disability occurs when brain development is affected, either
before they are born, during birth or in the early stages of childhood.

There are many factors which could affect brain development at each of these stages, including:

  • Genetics (an inherited learning disability)
  • Damage to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) before birth. This can be due to the mother becoming ill or having an accident during pregnancy
  • Oxygen deprivation during childbirth
  • Accidents causing trauma to the head, seizures or illnesses such as meningitis in early childhood could also cause a child to develop a learning disability
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