Association of Speech Therapists in Private Practice
Speech Therapy

Learning Disability

This term is used to describe childhood development that is significantly behind that of the peer group. Developmental milestones may be used for guidance. Many children have a learning disability. The impairment may be seen on its own or with additional problems such as hearing or vision impairment, epilepsy, or physical movement difficulties. A learning disability is a lifelong condition but much can be done to maximise the child's potential. In the early years the child may be described as showing global or developmental delay, or having special needs.

Some children are recognised very early on as being likely to have a learning disability because they have the signs of a particular syndrome (such as Down's Syndrome) which is known to affect global development and learning skills. Prader-Willi Syndrome and Fragile-X Syndrome are also associated with communication difficulties. For many, however, the cause of the learning disability is unknown.

As learning disability persists throughout a person's life, communication problems may also occur for adults. These can be very significant in certain scenarios such as medical treatment, crime (either as perpetrator or victim), and social situations. Therapists working with adults with learning disability aim to promote communication skills for independence, choice, inclusion and rights. They often work with carers to improve awareness and information. They also give training on communication skills and techniques.

Some characteristics of learning disability:

  • a genetic or developmental problem, which may occur with additional health and/or sensory problems
  • significantly delayed milestones in early development
  • short attention span and weak short-term auditory memory skills
  • slow speech and language development
  • slow cognitive development and a need for structured teaching
  • difficulty understanding and learning new skills
  • a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning)

Speech and language therapists are often involved with multi-professional teams working with learning disability. Therapy may begin well before school entry (e.g. in liaison with the Portage Service) and continue into the school years. The children may attend mainstream nurseries and schools, or specialist units. Some will have a Statement of Special Educational Needs. The following may form part of the speech and language therapist's input for children with learning disability:

  • eye-contact, early listening and attention skills
  • play skills
  • alternative or additional ways of communicating (e.g. Makaton signing, pictures, or symbol support for the written word)
  • work on speech sounds
  • understanding and using language
  • work on early concepts and cognitive development
  • management of eating and drinking difficulties

Some points you may wish to discuss with any therapist you contact:

  • The therapist's specialist credentials in the area of learning disability, especially in relation to any diagnosis you have been given for your child. (Some therapists will have undertaken special training courses e.g. Makaton signing, using Symbol resources, special teaching techniques for use with children with learning disabilities, or feeding management.)
  • How much experience the therapist has with learning disability.
  • Where the therapist sees people for assessment/therapy.
  • How much the therapist charges for assessment and/or regular therapy.

Many therapists with a general paediatric practice will regularly work with children with mild or moderate learning disability. Click here to search for Speech Therapists in your area.

Click here to search for Speech Therapists in your area with Learning Disability as a specialty.