Learning disability used to be known as mental handicap or mental retardation. Other terms sometimes used are general or global developmental delay. A child with a general learning disability finds it more difficult to learn, understand and do things compared to other children of the same age. Like all children and young people, children with learning disabilities continue to progress and learn throughout their childhood– but more slowly.
The degree of disability can vary greatly. Some children will never learn to speak and so are likely when they grow up to need help with looking after themselves- feeding, dressing or going to the toilet. On the other hand, the disability may be mild and the child will grow up to become independent.
Children or young people who have general learning disability are aware of what goes around them. However, their ability to understand and communicate may be limited, and they can find it hard to express themselves. Speech problems can make it even harder to make other people understand their feelings and needs. They can become frustrated and upset by their own limitations. When they compare themselves to other children, they feel sad or angry and think badly of themselves.
For a parent, it can be distressing to find out that their child has a general learning disability. It may be hard for them and other members of the family to understand why their child is like this. It can also be hard to communicate with the learning disabled child, difficult to manage their behavior and hard for other people to understand.
A general learning disability is not a mental illness. However, children with learning disability are more likely to develop mental health problems, for example anxiety, or other developmental disorders.
There are many ways to help a child with learning disability. There are different governments or non- government organizations and individuals who offer help for children with disabilities. It is important to recognize, as soon as possible, that a child is learning and developing slowly. It is only when the problem is recognized that the child and their family can be offered the help and support they need. The health visitor plays an important role in recognizing how slow development in the years before school.
School can be a particular challenge for children with learning disabilities because of both the learning and social demands. Local education departments can make special arrangements to meet the educational needs of each child. However, there is an expectation that most children will receive their education in a mainstream inclusive environment. For example, children who are able to cope comfortably with other people are likely to attend in ordinary school, but have special forms of teaching. On the other hand, a child with a more severe disability may go to a special school.
For some children, an educational psychologist will prepare a Statement of Special Educational Needs. This sets out what special help the child needs and takes into account the views and wishes of the child and their parents. Still educational authorities have a parent partnership scheme to advise parents on educational provision.
In most areas, there are also other services. Respite care and holiday play schemes can extend the learning and social opportunities for the child. Parent supports group can put families in touch with other people who are coping with similar problems. The local social services department will be able to advise, both on these opportunities and on the benefits to which parents are entitled.
Disability does not stop a child from having a full enjoyable life. The aim of all the specialist services is to help children with a general learning disability to have lives that are as enjoyable and fulfilling as those of other people. BOLA TANGKAS