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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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2 What is a learning disability?

The previous section discussed how labels used about people with learning disabilites are controversial. But what exactly is a learning disability?

In this section you will be introduced to two recent definitions.

The definition in use in England (Figure 1) was adopted in 2001, from a White (Government) Paper called Valuing People.

The English definition of a learning disability in quotation marks.
Figure 1 The English definition of a learning disability

The definition in the Scottish Government’s Keys to Life strategy document (2013) is similar and a little clearer (Figure 2).

The image shows the Scottish defintion of a learning disability.
Figure 2 The Scottish definition of a learning disability

You can see from both of these definitions that there are four key elements to identifying a learning disability:

  • it is a lifelong condition
  • you have more difficulty than others in understanding things
  • you will struggle to learn new skills
  • you may need some help to manage your life.

People sometimes believe that a learning disability applies to people who score less than 70 in intelligence tests, known as IQ. However, the strategy documents are unanimous – it is not enough just to measure intelligence. An assessment needs also to take account of social functioning and communication skills – in other words, how well people manage their lives.