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Our guide on supported living for adults with a learning disability

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects the brain’s ability to send, receive and process information. This means that people with a learning disability may find it harder when it comes to reading, writing, speaking, listening and learning daily life skills. There are different types and severities of learning disabilities, which means that everyone will experience slightly different challenges.

As people with a learning disability have a reduced intellectual ability, it means they may find challenges with:

  • Undertaking household tasks or chores
  • Understanding new or complicated information
  • Learning new skills
  • Socialising with other people
  • Thriving on their own
  • Managing money

In the UK, around 1 in 50 people live with a learning disability, which is around 1.5 million people in total. 

What causes a learning disability?

A learning disability is the result of something affecting the development of the brain either before birth, during birth or in early childhood. Many different factors can cause a learning disability, some of which include:

  • A lack of oxygen during birth due to complications
  • An inherited condition that affects the development of the brain
  • A very premature birth
  • An illness or injury during early childhood that affects brain development
  • Mother’s illness during pregnancy

However, there may not always be a known cause for a learning disability. Certain conditions are often associated with having a learning disability, which include autism, down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. This means that a person might be autistic and have a learning disability. 

What is the difference between a learning disability and a learning difficulty?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects a person’s learning and intelligence in all areas of their life. A learning difficulty refers to a condition that makes it harder for a person in a specific form of learning.

How does a learning disability affect a person’s life?

As the type and severity of learning disabilities differ, the difficulties a person may experience also differs. Each individual with a learning disability is unique, which means each individual will require a different level of support.  

For example, someone with a mild learning disability may only need support with things like getting a job or help with things like filling in forms or completing documentation. Someone with more complex needs because of their learning disability may need support with more parts of their lives, including everyday tasks such as personal care, cleaning, and cooking.

At Lifeways we believe that people should not be defined by labels. One person is not the same as someone else with the same learning disability.

How can I or the person I support be diagnosed with learning disabilities?
Some learning disabilities are diagnosed at a young age, while others might not be discovered until the individual is older. Often, parents or teachers may first become aware that a child is having difficulties in certain ways, such as progressing in classwork or socialising with other pupils.
In the UK, a GP or another qualified health professional will usually make a diagnosis of a learning disability. If you have concerns about the development of the person you support, you should contact your GP who should be able to offer advice and refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

What’s the outcome for people with learning disabilities?
There is no ‘cure’ for learning disabilities. This means that individuals with learning disabilities set outcomes that are achievable, and work on their goals, like anyone else – instead of seeking to ‘not have’ learning disabilities.
Many people with learning disabilities thrive and live healthy, fulfilling lives. A successful outcome for an individual with learning disabilities may involve both maintenance (keeping up with the progress that’s been achieved) and development of new skills.
At Lifeways, our support teams know it’s important to not stifle someone’s goals by being risk averse. This means we work to support each individual with opportunities to gain greater independence (when they want to) through the person-centred support they receive. 

What is supported living for people with a learning disability?

Supported living for people with a learning disability allows people to live as independently as they can. Individuals have the independence of their own accommodation but with the reassurance of extra support when it’s needed. The amount of support provided depends on the individuals’ unique needs - it could just be a few hours a week, through to 24-7 guidance and or support. There are a number of different benefits of support living, from greater independence to tailored support and care.

Read our blog to find out more about what supported living is.

How do Lifeways support people with a learning disability?

Many of Lifeways’ 1,500 services support adults from the age of 18 and upwards who live with learning disabilities. At Lifeways, we understand that individuals with a learning disability may struggle with various aspects of their lives. However, we also recognise that they have huge potential, with individual hopes, dreams and aspirations, which should always be listened to. We make sure that the people we support feel understood and are encouraged to live the most meaningful life possible. We are proud to help and support people to lead more fulfilling lives, often achieving the most amazing things.

We provide different support options depending on the level of support needed, and this includes supported living and residential care. Our locations are specially adapted to support people to live as independently as is possible for them, containing assistive technology where possible to make lives safer and easier. 

Who delivers support with learning disabilities at Lifeways’ services?
Around 11,000 people work for Lifeways, with many of our support teams specially trained to support individuals living with learning disabilities. 
Our learning disabilities training for our colleagues begins with a comprehensive induction programme when a new support worker or team member joins Lifeways. After this initial training is completed, Lifeways delivers training that’s either focused on an individual or is specific to a service. This deeper level of training makes sure our support teams are fully equipped with all the tools they need to effectively support people. 
Training for our support teams doesn’t stop there. For ongoing learning and development, every Lifeways support colleague has access to a secure online comprehensive learning platform, My Lifeways Learning. The online platform means that colleagues can access learning to keep up to date as people’s needs change, and best practice is updated as well as for their own personal development.  
At Lifeways, ongoing training for colleagues who work around individuals with learning disabilities is of key importance. People with a learning disability often have poorer physical and mental health than other people, and may find it harder to access healthcare. That’s why our support colleagues are trained to be able to recognise potential signs and symptoms of deteriorating health so they can seek early medical intervention.

Craig’s story 

Craig lives with learning disabilities and is on the autistic spectrum. In his mid-teens he was bullied which affected his self-esteem. “Craig was having a very difficult time,” says his mum, Sandra. “My biggest worry was about the level of support Craig needed.” 

Finding the right support through Lifeways has changed Craig’s life. His support worker has helped him learn how to use specialist software to organise his daily schedule, keeping track of his activities week-by-week, and supporting him to plan for the future.

To find out more about how Lifeway’s helped Craig, read his story here.

How we can help

At Lifeways, we’re proud to support people who live with a range of complex conditions, including learning disabilities, autism, acquired brain injuries, physical disabilities and mental health conditions. Everything we do is tailored to the unique needs of each individual.
If you want to find out more information or have any questions about support for people living with learning disabilities, please get in touch and our friendly team will be happy to help.

Additional Resources:

•    Download our guide on supporting people who live with learning disabilities.

•    Find out about the difference between supported living and residential care.

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