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Learning Disability

People with learning disabilities have a significant, lifelong condition that started before adulthood (age 18) that affected their development and which means they need help to:

  • understand information
  • learn skills; and
  • cope independently

With the right support, people with learning disabilities can live full and happy lives and make a meaningful contribution to our communities.


What causes learning disability?

It is not always possible to say why someone has a learning disability. There are many different types of learning disability. Most learning disabilities are caused by the way the brain develops - before, during or soon after birth.

Before birth:

  • Things may happen to the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord)
  • The mother may have an accident or illness while she is pregnant
  • A parent may pass on particular genes to the baby
  • The genes may develop in a particular way while the unborn baby develops.


During birth:

  • The baby may not get enough oxygen
  • The baby may be born prematurely


After birth:

  • The baby may develop an early childhood illness such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • The baby may fall victim to a physical accident


Genetic Causes of learning disability
Fragile X syndrome and Down's syndrome are the two most common genetic causes of learning disability.

Although Fragile X syndrome is the most common genetic cause of learning disability, not everyone with this condition has a learning disability. If they do, the learning disability could be mild, moderate or severe. People with Fragile X syndrome may also have problems with concentration and communicating with or relating to other people.

About 60,000 people (or one in every 1,000 babies) in the UK have Down's syndrome. This is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome. Everyone with Down's syndrome has some kind of learning disability.

Profound and multiple learning disabilities

People with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) have a profound learning disability, more than one disability and great difficulty communicating. They will  need full-time support with every aspect of their lives - including eating, drinking, washing, dressing and personal care.

For more information and suport for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and their families, visit the PAMIS website.

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