Not to be confused with what are termed in the UK as Learning Difficulties (Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia etc), a Learning Disability is described as something that affects how someone learns through their lifetime.
This generally covers three areas:
- Understanding new or complex information
- Learning new skills
- Coping independently
A Learning Disability can be present for a number of reasons that range from an illness, such as Meningitis as a child, a brain injury, inheriting a combination of genes that result in Learning Disability, a lack of oxygen to the brain, or Mum becoming ill when pregnant.
An allergic reaction to Vaccines has been known to cause Learning Disabilities, but this is incredibly rare and not to be confused with the myth that vaccines cause Autism. Often children with Learning Disabilities can display behaviours that are similar to anxiety driven Autistic behaviours; and they can sometimes be non-speaking, which is where much of the confusion lies.
That’s not to say that the individual isn’t Autistic, it’s just difficult to know for certain.
Generally a Learning disability is described as something that occurs that negatively impacts on brain development, either in utero, during childhood, or as a result of a hereditary genetic condition.
There is also what are known as Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), which means people with very high support needs and often complex medical conditions who need a great deal of medical and social care.
None of these things are Autism, yet are often pushed under the umbrella of Autism, which means that it’s an excuse not to provide adequate support and not to work out effective ways of supporting the individual to communicate in ways appropriate for them.
How we define a Learning Disability is symptomatic of how the majority is taken to be the norm and what we understand about intelligence.
A Learning Disability is only defined as such from the perspective of someone who says: ‘i measure your intelligence against these others, because you do not learn like them and your prioroties are not ‘normal’ priorities’.
My answer to that would be firstly:
Why are you measuring people against each other and what purpose does that serve?
Secondly: if you are trying to teach everyone the same way is that not a measure of your own disability, an inability to widen your teaching abilities to incorporate people who don’t learn like you and assume that their needs match yours, because you assume your way of being is the correct way of being?
So what is intelligence?
I spoke a little about the flaws of IQ tests in ‘Asperger’s: What’s in a name?‘, historically they were a eugenicist tool, used to cull people deemed unwanted by white people, like Black people, Disabled people, mentally ill people and so on from humanity’s gene pool.
Another issue with IQ tests is that they are only ever a measure of how good someone is at passing IQ tests. If you practice them, you actually get better.
So what does Intelligence mean?
Does it mean you’re clever?
What does that mean?
Does it mean you’re academic?
Does it mean you’re good at passing tests..? Oh. We’re there again.
That line of thinking takes value away from people deemed as Learning Disabled. They are deemed incompetent, as not adult or able to take part in adult things. Often denied physical relationships, often denied agency and often denied independence.
Autism and LD get lumped into one bracket when it suits. When it comes to services, often Autistic people can only access supports through LD services, with LD nurses. Or are denied services based on not being LD.
LD is often lumped under Autism with the non-Professionally created terms ‘severe Autism’ and ‘Low Functioning Autism’
Autism is not LD
LD is not Autism
Recent studies vary but range, from 15% to 30% of Autistic people also having a Learning Disability. So that’s 70-85% of Autistic people that do not have an LD. That’s a lot. As more research is done into this, the percentage of Autistics with LD’s gets lower over time, while the percentage without LDs gets higher.
Yet the narrative would have you flip that and think that it’s the inverse, that Autistic people who do not have LDs are the minority.
None of this is about separating Autistic people with no LD from Autistic people with LD, it’s more about distinguishing the fact that those with LD need significantly different support, but should not be tossed aside and misjudged either, based on an arbitrary measure of intelligence.
Autistic people branded Severe or Low Functioning due to LD, have their support needs met as poorly as those that do not have LD. Parents of Autistic people with LDs often feel more isolated than most and face significantly different challenges to those who do not support Autistic people without an LD.
The Severe/Low Functioning label actually negates their needs, much like high functioning and Asperger’s and both groups are rarely supported properly, nor understood, nor their families equipped with the proper tools and understanding to help them.
Very rarely are co-occurring conditions explored in either group, instead those with LDs are often forced down behavioural routes and those without down children’s or adult mental health. In terms of Autistic children without LD’s, behavioural routes are now playing a huge part too. The term ‘challenging behaviour’ is thrown around a great deal.
If how we view people based on intelligence and arbitrary ‘norms’ is fundamentally flawed, then how we label and provide support (or not) is based on those flawed concepts; which is why so often so much damage is done.
If what we think we understand about the world us based on fundamentally flawed concepts, where does that leave the people supposed to be at the centre of all this..?
The way the world thinks and is set up is furiously applying layer upon layer of trauma on its most vulnerable and the most horrifying aspect of this is that it’s become acceptable to do this.
People applaud and reward themselves and don’t ever question that they could be fundamentally causing harm. And, when challenged by those who have been through it or those that recognise the harm – it’s often dismissed by those think they know better.