Learning Disability Week 2023 (LDW) runs from the 19th to the 25th of June and this year is all about busting the myths surrounding what life is like if you have a learning disability. Read on to find out more about learning disabilities and discover how to provide special educational needs support in your early years setting. According to the Mencap website:

  • A myth is an idea about something that is not true
  • Busting a myth means showing why an idea about something is not true

There are many untruths that surround the topic of learning disability, but this year is about getting to know the fact from the fiction and reducing the discrimination and prejudice that exist. Recently, Ellie Goldstein became the first model with Down’s syndrome to feature on the cover of British Vogue magazine, clearly smashing some myths as she did.

Aims of LDW 2023

As well as myth-busting, LDW 2023 aims to:

  • Smash stigmas and end discrimination
  • Fight and campaign for a fairer society
  • Educate and raise awareness about learning disabilities

Let’s look at some facts instead…

  • In the UK, there are 1.5 million people with a learning disability and approximately 351,000 children aged 0-17 with a learning disability
  • Special educational needs (SEN) can affect a child or young person’s behaviour, reading and writing, concentration levels, ability to understand things, or physical ability
  • Not all children and young people with SEN have a learning disability – in 2019/20, only 29% of all children with a statement of SEN or an EHC plan were classified as having a learning disability
  • However, at the broader level of SEN support (previously School Action and School Action Plus), 228,315 children in England had a primary SEN associated with a learning disability
  • Most children with special educational needs (SEN) go to mainstream schools, with less than 10% attending special schools in the UK
  • The number of children with SEN has been increasing in the UK for 5 years
  • The number of pupils with an EHC plan has increased by 9% between 2021 and 2022, and by a total of 50% since 2016

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability refers to the way a person’s brain works. Having a learning disability makes it harder for someone to learn and understand new things. For example, they may find it harder to manage money, go out, or just do some everyday jobs around the house. Learning disabilities affect people in different ways, but for those who live with them, some things are true for everyone with a learning disability and some common (and not so common) factors that affect everyone.

By its very definition, a learning disability means people will have a reduced intellectual ability which affects them for their whole life.

Learning difficulties vs. learning disabilities

Sometimes, there is confusion about the difference between a learning difficulty and a learning disability. According to Mencap, the difference is whether the condition affects the intellect of the person.

  • Learning difficulties are things such as dyslexia, ADHD, or dyspraxia
  • Learning disabilities include things like Down’s syndrome, autism or profound- or multiple learning disabilities

The extent to which a learning disability affects someone’s intellect varies greatly so it is important not to pre-judge someone’s abilities or discriminate against them.

Types of learning disability and needs

Mencap lists a number of conditions that are associated with learning disabilities including:

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

The diagnosis of learning disabilities can be complex, especially in mild cases where children may be able to socialise well and perform some everyday tasks, but might struggle with other things or in school, so some of their problems may go unnoticed or be misunderstood as poor behaviour or a lack of interest.

This is why understanding the development of children and observing them in the early years is so important because it can help identify problems that children are having early. Getting a diagnosis can open doors to accessing the specialist treatment or alternative provisions that children need through SEN support services and education.

The chart below shows the types of needs that SEN children had in 2022 according to the School Census broken down by whether they had an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or not (source School Census).

Parenta learning disability week 2023 table

Causes of learning disability

Since a learning disability affects the brain, the causes can be varied but usually involve something which affects the development of the brain either in the womb, during childbirth or in the early years of a child’s life. The causes are still being researched as it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly the cause but can include:

  • Genetic factors (e.g. Down’s syndrome)
  • Accident, illness or things that affect the mother during pregnancy
  • Early childhood illnesses, accidents, seizures and trauma

Ways to promote Learning Disability Week in your setting

Here are some ideas on how to promote LDW and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding in your setting:

  • Talk about diversity and embrace and celebrate the differences between all humans
  • Read stories about the inspiring things that people of all abilities can do. The Literacy Trust publish a list of books about disability awareness for early years and you can find it here. Scope also publishes a list of books about children with disabilities which you can find here
  • Undertake some CPD about SEN or learning difficulties/disabilities. Parenta has some e-learning CPD courses on things such as Autism Awareness, Asperger’s syndrome and Disability Awareness to name but a few
  • Hold an information session for parents to discuss the provision that your setting can offer
  • Reach out to local charities who deal with learning disabilities and SEN subjects and invite them into your setting to explain to the children, parents and staff what they do
  • Hold a fayre or fund-raising event for your favourite learning disability charity

Whatever you do, remember to send us your stories to hello@parenta.com.


References and more information

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