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People with learning disabilities have a right to the same level of health care as that provided to the general population.

This care should be flexible and responsive and any diagnosis or treatment must take account of specific needs associated with the person’s learning disability.


The term Learning disability (LD) is used to describe a person who has developmental delay or intellectual disabilities which are usually evident from birth or early childhood.

There are three core criteria, which must be used for the term learning disability to apply:

  • Significant impairment of intellectual function
  • Significant impairment of adaptive and or social function (ability to cope on a day to day basis with the demands of his/her environment and the expectations of age and culture)
  • Age of onset before adulthood


Learning disability does not include:

  • The development of intellectual, social or adaptive impairments after the age of 18
  • Brain injury acquired after the age of 18
  • Complex medical conditions that affect intellectual and social/adaptive functioning: eg dementias, huntington’s chorea
  • Specific learning difficulties, e.g. dyslexia, literacy or numeracy problems, or delayed speech and language development


The term learning difficulties which is often used in education services to describe people with specific learning problems does not indicate that a person has a learning disability as defined above. People with learning disabilities may present as having:

  • Difficulties communicating and expressing needs and choices
  • Difficulty understanding their diagnosis, treatment options or services available to them
  • Difficulty understanding the consequences their decisions can have on their health status


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