Empowering and Supporting Mental Health for Individuals with Learning Disabilities and Busting Some Myths.
Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect the way individuals process and understand information. These disabilities can impact various areas of life, including education, employment, and social interactions. In schools, learning disabilities may manifest as difficulties in reading, writing, math, or communication skills.
However, learning disabilities are not limited to childhood, as adults can also face challenges associated with their learning differences. In this blog, we will explore the impact of learning disabilities, focusing on mental health struggles, ways to support individuals with learning difficulties, debunking common myths, and promoting inclusivity and empowerment.
Mental Health Challenges Faced by Individuals with Learning Disabilities in the UK:
People with learning disabilities are not only prone to struggling with academic aspects but are also more vulnerable to mental health issues. In the UK, studies have revealed that individuals with learning disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems compared to the general population. Factors such as social isolation, bullying, low self-esteem, and limited access to appropriate support services contribute to their increased susceptibility to mental health challenges.
Research conducted by Mencap, a leading UK charity for people with learning disabilities, indicates that individuals with learning disabilities are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Moreover, people with learning disabilities may face difficulties in expressing their emotions and finding appropriate channels for seeking help. It is crucial to recognise and address the mental health needs of individuals with learning disabilities to ensure their overall well-being.
Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities
There’s are various ways to support individuals with learning difficulties, particularly in maintaining good mental health. Firstly, promoting awareness and understanding of learning disabilities among educators, healthcare professionals, and the general public is crucial. By fostering a compassionate and inclusive environment, we can reduce stigma and provide appropriate support to those in need.
In schools, teachers can implement personalised learning strategies and accommodations to address the specific needs of students with learning disabilities. Individual Education Plans and additional support services, such as educational psychologists and speech therapists, can help students overcome their challenges and reach their full potential.
Depending on a child or adolescents needs, it might be appropriate to consider an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP). Many with confirmed or suspected learning disabilities still aren’t always made aware of this. This is a legally binding document in the UK that outlines the special educational needs (SEN) of a child or young person, the support required to meet those needs, and the desired outcomes to be achieved. It is a comprehensive plan that covers educational, health, and social care provisions.
To initiate the process of obtaining an EHCP in the UK, the following steps are generally followed but can differ:
· Requesting an assessment: The first step is to request a formal assessment from the local authority (LA) responsible for the child's education. This request can be made by the parents, the child's school, or any professionals involved in the child's care.
· Assessment process: Once the LA receives the request, they will consider the evidence provided and decide whether to proceed with an assessment. The assessment typically involves gathering information from various sources, such as parents, teachers, medical professionals, and any other relevant parties. The purpose is to evaluate the child's educational needs and the support required.
· Decision-making: After the assessment, the LA will decide whether to issue an EHCP. This decision is based on the assessment findings and whether the child meets the criteria for an EHCP.
· Drafting the EHCP: If the LA decides to issue an EHCP, they will work with the child's parents and professionals to draft the plan. The EHCP should include a detailed description of the child's needs, the specific support they require, and the desired outcomes to be achieved.
· Finalizing the EHCP: Once the draft EHCP is completed, it will be shared with the parents for their input and feedback. The LA will consider their views and make any necessary amendments. The finalized EHCP will then be issued to the parents.
· Annual Review: The EHCP should be reviewed annually to ensure it remains relevant and appropriate. The review involves assessing the child's progress, identifying any changes in their needs, and updating the plan accordingly.
It is important for carers/parents to work collaboratively with the LA throughout the EHCP process, providing relevant information and advocating for their child's needs. Seeking guidance from SEN support services, educational professionals, or local parent support groups can also be helpful in navigating the process effectively.
Please note that the process and specific requirements for obtaining an EHCP may vary slightly depending on the local authority in the UK. It is advisable to consult with the relevant local authority or seek professional advice for accurate and up-to-date information specific to your area.
But you and schools don’t have to have an EHCP or similar in place to provide support to a child or adolescent who asks or shows need for additional support. And many learning disabilities may not in a local authorities view meet the full criteria. But schools and various others can provide a supportive and inclusive environment, any educator can positively impact the mental well-being of students with learning difficulties without one.
If you’re unsure of what support might be possible or available for your child, it’s always worth speaking with the school directly with who is responsible for the schools special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) that your child is or looks to attend. You can also find information on your local authorities SEND offer by contacting them directly or searching on their website.
Furthermore, the development of social skills and self-advocacy is vital for individuals with learning disabilities. Encouraging participation in extracurricular activities, clubs, and support groups tailored to their interests can foster a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for building social connections. Peer support programs, mentoring initiatives, and counselling services specifically designed for individuals with learning disabilities can also play a significant role in supporting their mental health.
This is the same for adults, adults with learning disabilities very often have the skills and abilities that enable them to be able to work and or live independently without, with limited or varied support in so many potential roles. This can be hugely beneficial for their social development and maintaining good mental health and general wellbeing.
Engagement with others outside of work or further education is also crucially important for a persons wellbeing, access and support to social groups, clubs and attending events are equally important for adults with learning disabilities. Whether it’s paid work, volunteer work or independent projects, anything an individual can do which can be encouraged can provide more positive mental health creating possible experiences of feeling and being more valued, confident, and accepted.
Whilst there’s still room for improvement, things have improved to support those with learning disabilities as times move on. But many adults with learning disabilities have not been afforded the same level of support people can get today. This is in part due to a lack of awareness of learning disabilities and generational views of learning disabilities historically. This can mean many adults with learning disabilities remain very much prone to mental health difficulties. Sadly, there’s still a lot of stigma and lack of thought or appropriate care for those with some form of learning disability.
Any form of learning disability can be quite isolating, which can cause symptoms and feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger, low self-esteem and so much more. But by treating people with learning disabilities as people and individuals with the respect anyone would wish for, you can provide positive experiences and environments that can make a small or significant change to maintain and promote good mental health.
Debunking Myths about Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities are a result of low intelligence.
Reality: Learning disabilities are not related to intelligence. Actually, individuals with learning disabilities often have average or above-average intelligence but face specific challenges in processing and understanding information. When encouraged and enabled within positive and attentive educational environments so much is possible, as it would be for most.
Learning disabilities are a result of laziness or lack of effort.
Reality: Learning disabilities are neurologically based and are not a result of laziness or lack of effort. Individuals with learning disabilities often work harder than their peers to overcome their challenges.
Learning disabilities can be outgrown or cured.
Reality: Learning disabilities are lifelong conditions. However, with appropriate support, accommodations by others by being more thoughtful and inclusive, and helpful strategies shared, individuals with learning disabilities can develop coping mechanisms and be positively accepted more easily to succeed in various areas of life.
People with learning disabilities cannot achieve academic or professional success.
Reality: With the right support and accommodations, individuals with learning disabilities can excel academically and thrive in their chosen careers. Many successful individuals with learning disabilities serve as inspirations for others.
Learning disabilities are rare.
Reality: Learning disabilities are more common than often perceived. According to the UK government's estimates, around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. It is essential to recognize and support the diverse needs of this population.
What can we take from Learning Disability week?
Learning Disability Week serves as a crucial reminder of the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities and the importance of supporting their mental health. By promoting awareness, debunking myths, and fostering inclusive environments, we can empower individuals with learning difficulties to pursue their passions and participate fully in society.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that people with learning disabilities are given the necessary support, respect, and opportunities they deserve. Let us celebrate their strengths and promote a world that embraces and includes individuals of all abilities.
Take a moment...
Remember, not all learning disabilities are immediately apparent, as they are not always associated with or caused by physical/visible disabilities. Many individuals may have undiagnosed or unrecognized learning disabilities. It is important to approach and respond to everyone with kindness, if someone asks for help or support, be a good listener and offer assistance without judgement.
Mencap have shared a link with a wonderful story of how Ellie became the first person with Down syndrome to be a cover model for Vogue! https://youtu.be/jZvWecNsoBU.
You can also find out much more information and other inspiring stories from those with learning disabilities. https://www.mencap.org.uk/LDWeek. We encourage you to take a moment to read and watch these real stories of those with learning disabilities.
Thank you for reading
Please note, we are able to provide counselling support to a large variety of patient needs and presentations. We do not give diagnosis, but we can support with individual patients delivering 1:1 talking and creative therapeutic approaches for those with various forms of learning difficulties to help them with mental health struggles.