What do we mean by ‘learning disabilities’? The term ‘learning disabilities’ can take into account a range of things from language skills such as listening and speaking to challenges faced with mathematical calculations and written language and reasoning. A learning difficulty and a learning disability are two very different things. Dyslexia is classed as a learning difficulty, however a learning disability is a lifelong condition with no cure, but people can achieve new things with the right support.
Very often, unless people experience schooling or work life, a learning disability can go unnoticed for some time. For many, like Ciara Lawrence, they manifest in childhood and at school.
Ciara gives us her view on how she has coped and what you should avoid doing or saying to someone with a learning disability.
How did you first discover you had challenges with learning?
“I first discovered my learning disabilities when I went to school and started finding communicating and instructions hard to grasp and follow. For a long time at my two mainstream schools my difficulties got ignored. It was at the age of 10 that my learning disability diagnosis finally came through.”
What three things have you done or changed in your life to help you cope with your learning disability?
“Having people in my life that understand me and support me. This is vital because it helps me feel secure and confident about the way I am. They love me and accept me for who I am. I appreciate it when people can communicate with me in a way that is broken down and in a way that I can understand.
When I have a bit of extra time and reasonable adjustments put in place I feel I can achieve new things.”
What is the worst thing someone can say or do to someone with a learning disability?
“The worst things people can say are;
“You don’t look like you have a learning disability “
“You don’t talk like you have a learning disability”
“You talk so clearly and eloquently – what is your learning disability then? “
The worst thing someone can do to me is give me a piece of writing that includes big hard jargon words in it. The other really frustrating thing is when people rush me and explain things too quickly.”
What can people do to support someone with a learning disability?
- Be patient. Listen to the person with a disability. Remember some people don’t like to talk about themselves.
- If the person needs help, ask if and how you can assist.
- Learn about their specific type of learning disability or help them get assessed by a professional.
- If you are a parent or teacher, know what the child’s skill levels are. Keep academic demands at their skill level and don’t over challenge them. This will avoid ‘shut-down’ mindset.
- If you are the employer of a person with invisible disabilities, learn how to manage disabilities in the workplace.
Above all, don’t judge a book by its cover. Learning disabilities are very often hidden disabilities and they can range from being mild to life changing for someone. So stop listen and learn. Above all, be kind.
If people think they may have a learning disability where can they go for support or advice?
I normally sign post other people to other charities that I know of to get support and advice on learning disabilities such as;