Learning Disabilities Week

By Chloe Hall

This year, it begins on Monday 17th June. It is intended to be a celebration and an opportunity to increase awareness. More than anything else it is a chance for people to show what it is like to live with learning disabilities. 

For 2024 the theme is, ‘Do you see me?’. This means raising the profile of people with learning disabilities, encouraging and empowering them to be seen, heard and respected within society. 

Mencap is organising events to focus on some roles that people with learning disabilities undertake in their everyday lives, while also highlighting and dismantling cultural barriers. 

Each day of this themed week is assigned a different topic and point of focus: 

  • Monday 17th – Do you see me?
  • Tuesday 18th – Do you understand me?
  • Wednesday 19th – Will you work with me? 
  • Thursday 20th – Do you hear me?
  • Friday 21st – Do you include me? 
  • Saturday 22nd – Will you help to support me?

These questions are intended to engage everybody to reconsider their responses to learning disability. They will also give people with learning disabilities opportunities to present their stories and explain their personal circumstances. 

Labels and defining people

It is important to remember that a term like ‘learning disability’ tends to be used as a defining label. Experts from Bild, the British Institute for Learning Disabilities, advise that we should aim to view people in a rich variety of ways and contexts, such as a relative, friend, neighbour, colleague, partner, parent, son, daughter etc., and not merely define someone by a learning disability. 

Distinguishing learning disabilities from learning difficulties

Both learning disabilities and learning difficulties impact on education. For example, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia are examples of learning difficulties. Mencap distinguishes them from learning disabilities because they do not affect intellectual ability in the same way. Although, of course, learning difficulties do present very considerable challenges to pupils in conventional educational contexts. However, learning disabilities present people with challenges in their everyday activities. These could include undertaking household jobs, socialising with friends or relatives, preparing and eating food and drinks, staying safe, realising what could be a potential risk, looking after personal hygiene, and managing personal finances whether paying for some items in a shop or settling a bill. 

Mental wellbeing 

As with learning difficulties, learning disabilities are classified on a scale from mild to severe. They certainly affect people throughout their lives. In educational and training contexts, people with learning disabilities are likely to need more time and support to understand new concepts, especially complex issues, or to master a new skill. 

Struggling with an educational activity like reading can lead to frustration, boredom, and a loss of self-esteem. People with learning disabilities may show an unwillingness to participate, simply due to embarrassment. The impact on their mental wellbeing can be very serious. Awareness and positive approaches to providing support are crucial to avoid this. 

Positive approaches can make a big difference 

A positive outlook from parents, teachers, carers, siblings, friends and colleagues makes a very considerable difference to anyone with a learning disability. Respectful encouragement helps people to stay motivated and ultimately reach their potential in whatever they are doing. And there are specific teaching and learning strategies which can benefit pupils and adults a good deal. For instance, self-directed learning. This means empowering a person to suggest how much is covered in a teaching session. Moving at the most appropriate pace is obviously beneficial. Confidence building is also an important approach, coupled with promoting a healthy sense of self-respect. Such empowerment can lead to an affirming personal boost, and a sense of pride in achievements. This is important for maintaining good mental wellbeing. 

In some educational contexts there can be a readily proven solution, for example, the use of a computer to complete an assignment, or extra time in an assessment. While in the workplace being accommodating to all colleagues’ needs is now accepted universally as good practice. 

Therefore, praising effort and initiative is central to empowering someone to progress and be productive. And for children, such an approach is much more important than a specific focus on raw scores or grades. Making mistakes is a useful part of learning for everyone, and can help us to focus attention on particular areas which need reinforcing. 

People with Down’s syndrome

This is one group who will have some learning disability. In reality, that means they will have a range of abilities and needs. Some people will be able to live an independent lifestyle and go out to work. Other people may need regular support or care. It goes without saying that people with Down’s syndrome can lead successful and rewarding lives. 

Given that people who are prominent in public life or the media are often inspirational, there are some tremendous role models with Down’s syndrome. For instance, actor Daniel Laurie, who poignantly plays the part of Reggie in Call the Midwife. In a recent interview with the Radio Times, Daniel spoke in a heartwarming way about his experience of life with Down’s syndrome: ‘Basically having Down’s syndrome is kinda cool. To me it’s absolutely cool.’ Such a highly visible role model, whose outlook is so positive, is naturally inspiring to others. 

What is Fragile X syndrome?

This is a genetic condition which can lead to issues affecting children’s emotions, behaviour, speech, attention, as well as ways in which they interact. It is the most commonplace inherited cause of learning disability.

Many people with Fragile X might react like someone with autism. They may feel and seem very shy, be uncomfortable socialising, avoid eye contact, and like to follow a regular routine.

The employment challenge 

Taking England as an example, about one in sixteen adults with moderate or severe learning disabilities is in paid employment. This is proportionally much lower than the employment rates for disabled people (roughly one in two) and the general working age population as a whole (approximately three in four). Clearly much still remains to be done to make employment opportunities as practically inclusive as possible, and so embrace the undoubted potential of people with learning disabilities. 


Irrespective of age and circumstances, it is important to appreciate that learning disabilities do not present in exactly the same manner from one person to another.

In 2024, people with learning disabilities are able to enjoy more fulfilling lifestyles and be better appreciated than previously. However, barriers remain and there is a long way to go. Certainly in paid employment there is a statistical gulf between the number of disabled people at work and the number of those with a moderate or severe learning disability. 

This year’s themed week aims to address issues like this. While continuing to raise awareness of what it is like to live with learning disabilities, organisations like Mencap are promoting the remarkable achievements and potential of people who have learning disabilities. 


For more information about Learning Disabilities Week please visit: https://www.mencap.org.uk/learningdisabilityweek

The NHS provides information and advice to support people with learning disabilities. For example, you could visit 


There’s a lot of advice and help online for anyone who is finding things difficult. You could try looking at one or more of these sources of information:


HFEH Mind CYP Services

HFEH Mind Adult Services

The Circle

Young Minds

NHS – Every Mind Matters

If you live in Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing or Hounslow then join our Physical and Mental Health Focus Group and help shape the future of mental health in your borough and beyond.

Posted on: 17th June 2024

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