What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a lifelong condition that typically occurs from birth or before the age of18. The disability may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound and multiple.

A learning disability affects the way a person understands information and how they communicate. This means they can have significant difficulties:

  • understanding new or complex information
  • learning new skills
  • coping independently

(NHS, 2018).

Defining a learning disability

The  current definition of a learning disability is:

  • significant impairment of intellectual functioning, and
  • significant impairment of adaptive/ social functioning, and
  • age of onset before adulthood.

All three factors must be present for Learning Disability Service criteria to be met.

Living with a learning disability

You may have a learning disability and think you need help, or know someone who has a learning disability who you think needs help.

It’s important to remember that with the right support, most people with a learning disability in the UK can lead independent lives.

Learning disability versus learning difficulty

Learning disability is often confused with dyslexia and mental health problems. Dyslexia is described as a 'learning difficulty' because, unlike learning disability, it does not affect intellect.

Some people may have experienced specific difficulties learning at school and been given diagnoses such as dyslexia but do not have difficulties with other aspects of their lives and therefore do not meet CLDS eligibility criteria for diagnosis of a learning disability.

End of life care

Some people with learning disabilities have conditions that reduce their life expectancy. We work closely with hospitals and palliative services to support people at the end of their lives.