Can you imagine how your life would be different if you had a learning disability? How would it affect you and the lives of the people you love?

Maybe you’d find it more difficult to live independently? Perhaps everyday tasks that we all take for granted; like cooking, keeping clean or going out to socialise with friends, would be something you could no longer do.

You might be like one-third of people with learning disabilities who, on a typical Saturday, spend less than 1 hour outside their home. Maybe you’d soon feel alone and cut off from others, like 17.8% of people with a learning disability do.

Whoever you were, wouldn’t it be nice to know that there were people out there who cared, and who you could rely on to make things just that little bit easier?

The charity, Mencap, does just that, and leads the way in helping people with learning disabilities feel included and get the help they need.

What is a learning disability?

According to Mencap, a learning disability is “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities” such as household tasks, socialising or managing money – 3 things that often cause the most problems.

It is often confused with learning difficulties, such as those experienced by people with dyslexia or some mental health problems. However, learning difficulties do not affect people’s intellect, whereas learning disabilities do. Learning disabilities are usually caused by problems when the brain is still developing during pregnancy, in birth or in the first few months of life. The level of disability can be mild, moderate, severe or profound, and affects people for their whole life as they can take longer to learn and may need additional support to interact with others, understand information or develop new skills.

For parents and carers of children with learning disabilities, getting an initial diagnosis; dealing with healthcare professionals and the child’s special educational needs (SEN); and sorting out childcare or portage (a home-based, early intervention and support service), can be a difficult and isolating time. That’s why awareness weeks and inclusion events are more important than ever.

There are 1.4 million people in the UK with a learning disability and approximately 193,707 children of school age. There are some conditions where people are more likely to have an associated learning disability such as;

  • Down’s syndrome
  • Williams syndrome
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Autism
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Global development delay
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Challenging behaviour

The degree of disability varies greatly and children with a learning disability will have special educational needs, although not all people with SEN have a learning disability.

Learning Disability Week 2019

The week runs from 17th to 23rd June and this year, is all about sport and inclusion. The goal for the week is for as many people as possible – those with and without a learning disability – to get involved in inclusive sporting activities in their local communities. Mencap is encouraging everyone to share their photos with them and raise awareness by advertising the week on social media sites using the hashtag #LDWeek19.

Sport is well known for bringing people together, whether it’s the Olympics or a local amateur football match, sport can cross boundaries and create shared memories. For those taking part, it can reduce loneliness and isolation; improve health and wellbeing; and allows for greater social inclusion and a sense of empowerment.

Another benefit is that it can help improve and change negative attitudes and prejudices which unfortunately still exist towards many people with learning disabilities – a much-needed change that is fundamental to Mencap’s raison d’être.

The Mencap website has information and listings of many events around the country that people are planning, including an interactive map where you can find out about events near you. There’s still plenty of time to plan your own event or attend one of those already being advertised. There are different categories, including:

  • Treat me well events
  • Network partner here we are local events
  • Royal Mencap Society events
  • Round the world challenge activities

Not all settings will have children who have learning disabilities, but that does not stop everyone getting involved in the week in some way. Children with learning disabilities have the right to early years childcare just like everyone else and childcare providers, by law, “must not deny disabled children access to childcare because they are disabled”. In addition, “providers must make sure they try their best to meet the needs of the children with a learning disability”.

How to get involved

You could raise money for the charity, for example by doing something fun and active, such as a sponsored football match, walk/run or just a multi-activity sports day.

You could set up a stand at your summer fair to raise awareness; or set up some fun and ‘sporty’ stalls such as a ‘shoot a hoop’ challenge; a fastest-over-10-metres race; or a good old-fashioned egg and spoon race! Be creative and get active!

If you have children in your setting with learning disabilities, you could consider The Round The World Challenge which is run in partnership with Sport England and The National Lottery. It’s a great way to improve inclusion and get your whole setting involved whilst teaching your little ones something about the world at the same time. You can register here: www.mencap.org.uk/about-us/our-projects/mencap-sport/round-world-challenge and there are events in different regions run by specially-trained staff.

Mencap’s vision is a world where people with learning disabilities are valued equally, listened to and included, but it’s clear that there is still a long way to go for that vision to be realised in our society.

What will you do this year in order to bring their goal just that little bit closer?

For more information, see: www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/learning-disability-week-2019

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