What is a learning disability?

What is a learning disability? 

Our definition of a learning disability was developed in consultation with people with learning disabilities themselves:

A learning disability is significant and lifelong. It starts before adulthood and affects a person’s development. This means that a person with a learning disability will be likely to need help to understand information, learn skills and live a fulfilling life. Some people with learning disabilities will also have healthcare needs and require support to communicate.

Scotland’s Census (2011), reported that approximately 26,349 people have learning disabilities; this is 0.5% of Scotland’s population. Both evidence from statistics and people’s lived experiences show that people with learning disabilities do not yet enjoy the same life chances as others. 

You can read what the General Medical Council says about learning disability here.

Other terms for learning disability

Learning disabilities are sometimes referred to as ‘learning difficulties’. A learning difficulty is a difficulty in processing information; for example dyslexia and dyspraxia are learning difficulties. Learning difficulties do not usually affect a person’s development in the same way as a learning disability.

A person can have both a learning disability and a learning difficulty.

A person can have both a learning disability and autism. These are separate conditions however.

Learning disability is sometimes called ‘intellectual disability’. This term is often used by researchers. It is also used internationally to mean learning disability. Sometimes this is shortened to ‘ID’.

What is being done in Scotland to help people with a learning disability?

Following on from a review of the services available for people with learning disabilities and individuals on the autistic spectrum  (‘The same as you?’ 2000) and the Scottish Government’s learning disability strategy, The Keys to life (2013 – 2021) in March 2021, the Scottish Government published a plan to ensure progress is made for people with learning disabilities and individuals with autism in Scotland. The plan is called Towards Transformation and sets out key actions towards making positive change for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.

The Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities (SCLD) is committed to protecting and upholding the human rights of people with learning disabilities in Scotland.

We work across different policy areas, talking to people with learning disabilities and individuals and organisations who support people with learning disabilities, to ensure that people’s lived experience is reflected in policy affecting people with learning disabilities in Scotland.

SCLD is a human rights defender. This means we work to uphold, protect and raise awareness of the human rights of people with learning disabilities.

Include For Good is our quest to involve people with learning disabilities in every aspect of Scottish life.