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Thanks, at least in part, to the hugely positive effect of the Paralympics, disability awareness is higher on the agenda and higher in public consciousness than ever before – and that’s great news. But it’s important to remember that whilst a physical disability is easy to see and (relatively) easy to understand, there are many other kinds of “unseen” disability – including learning disabilities.
Statistics estimate that 2% of the population in England (1.98 million people) have some form of learning disability. The term learning disability covers a very wide spectrum – from people who have a mild learning difficulty and perhaps need a few hours support to help with managing money, paying bills and running their home – to those who may not be able to speak or communicate in “traditional” ways and who need care and support 24 hours a day.
So, what support is available to make a difference in the every day lives of people with learning disabilities? Here a just a few examples.
Choice and control
Charities like United Response provide support to people in whichever way is most comfortable for the individual. Support should be “person-centred” – that is individual to each person supported and based around what they want to achieve in their life – from day to day living to realising hopes, dreams and ambitions – just as we all do. This might be about finding a job, learning a skill, making friends or getting involved in the local community. Everybody is different, so decisions may vary from individual to individual.
Crucially, good support gives people choice and control over all areas of how they live their life. We look not only at the day to day plans for what people want to do, but at their dreams and aspirations too. By focusing on long as well as short term goals we can begin to break these down into manageable chunks and to make real progress with each individual.
Supported living and managing a home
We believe that all people, however complex their needs, should be able to choose to live in an ordinary house in the community, with support that meets their needs and helps them to develop their skills and to live as independently as possible. This might mean living alone, with friends or family or in shared accommodation.
And it doesn’t have to be “residential care”; an ever growing number of people live in “supported living” settings, which means that they have their own rights and responsibilities as tenants (or owners) and can purchase the care and support they need – either via the local authority or a personal budget. The right support can help people to keep healthy and well, and to keep on top of their household bills and finances.
Becoming involved with the local community
Lots of people with learning disabilities struggle to get involved in their local community – perhaps because they lack confidence or because of real or perceived prejudice and barriers.
Charities can help support individuals to make real and genuine connections in their local community – in a way that isn’t just tokenism and leads to lasting involvement and relationships being built.
Many people with profound learning disabilities do not speak, so learning to communicate in the way that they understand and respond to, is critical in giving people real choice and control over their lives. Many of the people that United Response supports have very complex needs and so we have developed a range of tools and best practice materials to help all our staff to provide the best positive support to the people they work with.
We believe that behaviour (which may be labelled “challenging behaviour” and body language is a really important form of communication. It’s vital to understand what someone is trying to communicate through their behaviour and we focus on “Positive Behaviour Support” to identify potential triggers and to develop positive proactive and reactive strategies to working with people.
Find out more information about the different types of learning disability services that are available.