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Guide to learning disability support

Find information about where and how to get support for yourself, or someone else with a learning disability.

On this page:

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a lifelong condition that affects the way you learn new things.

If you have a learning disability, you may find it more difficult to:

  • understand complicated information
  • learn new skills
  • carry out everyday activities, like household tasks or interacting with people.

There are different causes of a learning disability. They usually happen when the brain is still developing. This could be before or during birth, or in early childhood.

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

Is a learning disability a mental health problem?

A learning disability is not a mental health problem. But people with learning disabilities may also experience mental health problems. There are lots of different reasons for this.

For example, you may:

  • face negative attitudes from other people
  • experience negative life events such as abuse.

These attitudes and experiences can affect your mental health.

Sometimes, people with a learning disability struggle to get a diagnosis for a mental health problem. This is because doctors may think your mental health symptoms are part of your learning disability.

The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD) website offers practical support. For example, it offers an easy-read resource called Feeling down: looking after my mental health.

Learning disability and other conditions

People often confuse learning disability with other conditions. Some examples include:

  • Autism. Autism is not a learning disability, and it is not a mental health problem. Autism is a developmental disability which affects how you communicate and interact. But some autistic people may also have a learning disability. Autistic people may also experience mental health problems. Find out more about our work on mental health and autism.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is not a learning disability, and it is not a mental health problem. ADHD is a condition which can affect your behaviour. But some people who experience ADHD may also have a learning disability. People with ADHD may also experience mental health problems. For more information, see our page about ADHD and mental health.

It is also possible to have a diagnosis of both ADHD and autism at the same time. 

The Mencap website provides further information on conditions associated with learning disability.

Useful contacts for learning disability support

For people with a learning disability

Beyond Words

booksbeyondwords.co.uk
Books Beyond Words is a charity providing books for people who don’t like written words, but read through pictures. They share simple messages through stories using coloured pictures. Topics include going to the doctor, bereavement, sexual abuse and depression. Some of the titles are available online.

The Elfrida Society

020 7359 7443
elfrida.com
Offers services (mainly based in Islington) to help people with learning difficulties to manage as much of their lives as they want and feel able to. Services include advocacy, support for parents and employment support.

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

0808 800 0082 (helpline)
0808 800 0084 (textphone)
equalityadvisoryservice.com
Advice on issues relating to equality and human rights, including guidance for disabled people.

Livability

020 7452 2110
livabilty.org.uk
Christian organisation providing care services for disabled people in England and Wales.

Mencap

0808 808 1111 (Learning Disability Helpline)
mencap.org.uk
Information and advice for people with a learning disability, their families and carers. Services include an online community.

Respond

0207 383 0700
respond.org.uk
Services for people with a learning disability, autism or both, who have experienced abuse or trauma.

Real Life Options

01977 781800
reallifeoptions.org
Social support and care for people with a learning disability. Includes supported living and residential care.

Scope

0808 800 3333
scope.org.uk
Practical information and emotional support for disabled people.

For people with a learning disability and mental health problems

Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD)

learningdisabilities.org.uk
Promotes the rights of people with a learning disability, and their families. FPLD also offer an easy-read online resource to help people with a learning disability to take care of their mental health.

Turning Point

turning-point.co.uk
Health and social care services in England for people with a learning disability. Also supports people with mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse or unemployment.

United Response

unitedresponse.org.uk
Support in England and Wales for people with a learning disability, mental health needs and physical disabilities. Services include help with housing, supported living, education and employment.

For service providers and carers

Details of support and training for service providers, and others supporting people with a learning disability. Includes friends, family and carers.

Ann Craft Trust

anncrafttrust.org
Works with staff in the statutory, independent and voluntary sectors to protect people with a learning disability who may be at risk from abuse.

Association for Real Change

arcuk.org.uk
Membership organisation supporting providers of services to people with a learning disability to promote real change.

British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD)

bild.org.uk
Training services and publications to help organisations to champion rights for people with a learning disability, and to improve support for them.

Carers UK

0808 808 7777
029 2081 1370 (Carers Wales)
[email protected]
carersuk.org
Advice and support for anyone who provides care.

CHANGE

changepeople.co.uk
Helps organisations to support the rights of people with a learning disability. Its services include producing Easy Read resources and providing accessibility training.

Estia Centre

estiacentre.org
A training, research and development resource for those who support adults with learning disabilities and additional mental health needs.

Intellectual Disability and Health

intellectualdisability.info
Information about intellectual disabilities for medical, nursing and other healthcare students and professionals.

The Judith Trust

judithtrust.org.uk
Grant-making organisation for projects that support people with a learning disability and mental health problems.

Norah Fry Research Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol

bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/centres/norahfryresearch
Researches issues affecting the lives of disabled children and adults with learning difficulties and their families.

People First

peoplefirstltd.com
Campaigns for the rights of people with learning difficulties and supports self-advocacy groups.

This information was published in January 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References are available on request: email our info team.

If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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