MENCAP (2019) describe a learning disability as reduced intellectual ability and challenges with everyday activities as it takes longer to learn concepts and skills. The NHS (2019) clarify that a learning disability affects the way a person learns during their lifetime, including how they understand information and how they communicate. Children may have challenges with:
- Understanding new or complex information
- Learning new skills
- Coping independently
Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate or severe and in all cases they are lifelong. The Code (DfE, 2015, p. 97) states in the broad area of need ‘cognition and learning’ that ‘learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD), Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD), where children are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication, through to Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), where children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or Sensory Impairment. Consultant Pediatricians are most likely to diagnose ‘learning disabilities’ rather than categorise the severity, there are many issues with MLD as often it is designated to a child with unclear understanding as to how this is identified (Martin-Denham and Watts, 2019).
Definition in England from DfES, 2005, p. 6 guidance states pupils ‘will have attainments significantly below expected levels in most areas of the curriculum, despite appropriate intervention. Their needs will not be met by normal differentiation. They have much greater difficulty than peers in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and in understanding concepts, may have associated speech and language delay, low self esteem, low levels of concentration and underdeveloped social skills.
Source: DfES (2005) Data Collection by Special Educational Need. London: DfES.
IQ is often used as a measure by health and educational psychologists, this needs to be treat with caution as these are an unreliable measure. If a child has a specific learning difficulty they will naturally achieve lower scores due to the nature of the questions and reliance on literacy and numeracy skills (Martin-Denham and Watts, 2019).