What is a Learning Disability?

Defining learning disability

A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to process, understand, or retain information, which can make it challenging for them to learn new things or perform certain tasks. A learning disability will affect the way people learn new things throughout their life; it is a lifelong condition. Learning disabilities usually start in childhood but may not get diagnosed until adulthood.

People with a learning disability may need support with understanding complex information, engaging with other people, and developing new skills.

There are different types of learning disabilities which can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. People with a mild learning disability are often able to be independent carrying out everyday tasks and interacting with others. However, they may still require support with other tasks such as filling out a form. People with a severe or profound learning disability often require support with daily activities and everyday tasks such as eating or washing. People with a moderate learning disability may also require support with these tasks, but it depends on the person.

We recognise that each person’s experience with a learning disability is unique, and support should be tailored to their specific needs.

Sometimes people get learning disability and learning difficulty confused, but they are not the same.

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome

Autism is not a learning disability, but in a similar way to learning disabilities, it is a lifelong condition, and around 50% of autistic people may also have a learning disability. Autism is sometimes referred to as Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people communicate and interact with others and the world around them.

Asperger’s syndrome is a type of Autism. People with Asperger’s syndrome don’t have a learning disability but they do experience the world differently to other people therefore they might still need support. They see, hear, and feel the world differently around them.

Defining learning difficulty  

A learning difficulty refers to a condition that can cause people to experience challenges in a traditional classroom learning context. Unlike a learning disability, a learning difficulty does not affect a person’s general intelligence but can affect the way that they process certain types of information and how they learn.  

Some examples of learning difficulties:  

  • Dyslexia 
  • ADHD 
  • Dyspraxia 


Another term that is often mentioned within the learning disability community is neurodiversity.  

Neurodiversity describes the concept that people experience and interact with the world in various ways. There is no single ‘correct’ way of thinking, learning, or behaving, and these differences are not considered deficits. Rather than seeing differences as deficits, neurodiversity celebrates the natural variations in human brains and nervous systems.  

We celebrate neurodiversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all. 

Signs of learning disabilities

Recognising the signs of a learning disability is crucial for early intervention and support. These signs can vary between children and adults, though there are some commonalities.

Some signs in children

  • Language delays and slower development
  • Trouble with coordination, such as catching a ball
  • Difficulty paying attention, following instructions, or sitting still for activities
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Difficulty understanding basic math concepts, learning to count, and memorizing arithmetic facts

Some signs in adults

  • Persistent difficulties with reading, writing, or understanding written text
  • Ongoing struggles with mathematical concepts, calculations, and understanding numbers
  • Trouble understanding social cues, maintaining conversations, or interpreting body language
  • Problems with short-term memory, difficulty following directions, or maintaining attention on tasks

Common signs across all ages

  • Slow processing of information, taking longer than others to complete tasks
  • Struggling with planning, problem-solving, and critical thinking tasks
  • Frustration, anxiety, low self-esteem, and behavioral problems

Causes of learning disabilities 

 Sometimes we don’t know the reason why a person has a learning disability. People’s brain development can be affected before birth, during birth or after birth in childhood. 

 This can be caused by: 

  • Genetic factors (family history) 
  • Differences in brain structure or function 
  • Prenatal exposure to toxins 
  • Extremely premature births 
  • Problems during birth 
  • Illnesses or injury during early childhood 
  • Neurological issues affecting language, memory, or attention 
  • Conditions caused by chromosome differences, such as Down’s Syndrome 

Hear from the people we support 

It’s important we recognise that people with learning disabilities should not be treated any differently and the language we use is vital in creating a positive culture and promoting inclusivity. 

The people we support have come together to highlight why language matters.  

But, unfortunately, examples like these reinforce the ‘othering’ of people with learning disabilities. The knock-on effect is that we see people with learning and other disabilities as different or less than.  

Listen to what they have to say and understand why language and the words we choose mean so much. 

Re-framing perceptions of people with learning disabilities  

Our Co-Production team worked with some of the people we support to re-frame perceptions of people with learning disabilities through ‘myth-busting’ and challenging stereotypes! 

“People with Learning Disabilities can’t drive!” 

Meet Oli from our St Albans community not only can he drive a car, but he also recently received his BUS license.  

Person we support received bus license

“People with Learning Disabilities can’t raise money for others, people raise money for them!” 

Steph from our Larchfield community completed a 5k sponsored walk and raised a fantastic £256 for Cancer Research.

Person we support completed a sponsored walk

“People with Learning Disabilities can’t get married!” 

Karen and Andrew were married on 14th May 2022 and have recently celebrated their 1st wedding anniversary. They live happily together in our Stourbridge community.

Two people from our Stourbridge community got married

“People with Learning Disabilities can’t have a paid job!” 

Simon is a paid ‘Life of Opportunity’ reviewer, working for the Trust. He travels around all the communities meeting with people we support and ensuring they have the opportunities they want.

Life of opportunity reviewer for Camphill Village Trust

“People with Learning Disabilities can’t learn new skills!” 

Abi and Susie, our hospitality Trainees at Severnside Skills, are continually learning new skills and gaining qualifications at our training academy in Gloucester.

Severnside Skills hospitality trainees

These are just a few of the amazing people we support at Camphill Village Trust who challenge stereotypes and focus on can not can’t.  

We give the people we support the chance to create their life of opportunity. 

Getting support 

At Camphill Village Trust our approach is to focus on the person rather than the learning disability. We explore with each person how we can support, encourage and empower them to make informed choices, gain life skills and contribute to society in a way that brings purpose and meaning to them. Discover our services and the type of support we offer. 

Get in touch if you or someone you know requires support.

Contact Us
What is a Learning Disability?