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Learning Disabilities

About learning disabilities

A learning disability is a permanent condition. It affects a person’s ability to understand information, learn new skills or communicate. It can also affect how they manage daily living. A learning disability can be genetic. It could be due to illness or physical damage to brain development either before or during birth or as a young child.
Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate or severe. Some people with learning disabilities may also have other needs. Other needs may arise from physical disabilities, long-term health conditions, autism or mental health.
A diagnosis is the formal identification of Learning Disability. This is by a health professional such as a clinical psychologist.
Having a diagnosis may be helpful for 2 reasons:

  • It helps those with learning disabilities to understand why they may experience some difficulties and what they can do about them.
  • It enables people to access services and support.

Please contact your GP if you would like more information or help with a diagnosis.


People with learning disabilities will need health care in the same way as everyone else.  Some people with a learning disability will have additional health needs. For example, people with a learning disability are more likely to have epilepsy. They may need more support to understand information about their health.  They may need help to communicate symptoms and concerns and to manage their health.
There are simple things all health workers can do to make sure that people with a learning disability get the health care they need:

  • allow longer appointment times
  • think about how to communicate with the person (verbal and non-verbal)
  • listen to the knowledge of their families and carers

The EasyHealth website has guides for people with learning disabilities. It also includes easy read information that health professionals can use. This will help them to help explain health issues and treatments to patients with a learning disability.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust runs learning disability services in Hampshire.


An advocate is a person who supports and helps you to explain things. An advocate helps you say what you want if you find it difficult to do by yourself.
Advocates can help you:

  • access information and services
  • be involved in decisions about your life
  • explore choices and options
  • defend and promote your rights and responsibilities
  • speak out about issues that matter to you

Finding an advocate for yourself or someone you know
seAp  (support, empower, Advocate, promote) is an independent charity. They provide free, independent advocacy to help sort out issues or concerns you may have. This could be about your health and well-being or your health and social care services. They help people to speak out, access their rights and have more control over their lives.
You may be looking for community advocacy or person centred planning. Visit the Hampshire Regional Advocacy Group website.  You can look for an advocacy group in your area.

Staying safe from crime or abuse

See the information in our Protecting adults at risk section.

Hampshire Safeguarding Adults Board (HSAB) has a website. This has useful information for people who may experience or be at risk of experiencing abuse, their families and carers.  This includes easy read guidance about keeping safe. and mate crime.

"Mate crime" is the exploitation, abuse or theft from any vulnerable person by those they consider to be their friends. Those that commit such abuse or theft are often referred to as 'fake friends'. Mate crime is most prevalent when the victim suffers with a mental disability and is especially common when that disability is Autism or Asperger’s. Hampshire police offer guidance on how to prevent and deal with hate crime or mate crime.

Making money matter

Hampshire Trading Standards produces the Making money matter pack. This contains important information about consumer rights for people with a learning disability.

Safe Place scheme

Safe Place is a scheme to help people with learning disabilities. It is to help if you get lost, scared or upset when you are out on your own.

Services, support and information

Search our Community directory for local groups, services and activities for people with a learning disability

Mencap provides support and information. You can also use their website to search for a Mencap group in Hampshire.
The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities works with people and their families to make their lives better. They have a free guide with tips on how to stay safe in social media and online.

The British Institute of Learning Disabilities works with people and their families to help them get the support they need to lead their own lives.

The Down's Syndrome Association helps people with Down’s Syndrome as well as their families and carers.

Hampshire County Council provides services for people with learning disabilities who are eligible. People with a learning disability can register as disabled with Hampshire County Council. Young people in transition from Children's Services are supported by the Independent Futures Team.

Last reviewed: 21/04/2016

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