A guide to caring for people with learning disabilities and autism

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life – source: Mencap.

Autism is a permanent developmental disability that deeply affects the ways in which a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of their environment.

Furthermore, it is what is termed as a spectrum condition so while all people with autism share common difficulties their condition will affect them in different ways.

How to care for people affected by learning disabilities and autism

There are a number of steps that can be undertaken to care for people with learning disabilities and autism.

Improved Communication

It is imperative to communicate with each other really well. You may have to learn new ways of communicating and be prepared to change the way that you communicate with them. You need to check what they are able to hear, see and understand and adapt your communication to this.

One thing you may need to change is how you speak. They probably don’t understand as much verbal communication as you think they do. Lots of chatter may even be distracting and stressful for them. It may be more helpful at times if you show, guide and help them to be involved in the activities in their life rather than just talk to them.

They may use different communication tools to help them communicate e.g. pictures, photographs, symbols, objects and signing. Use and value all the different communication tools they have. If they have a Communication Passport or book please make sure you follow what it says.

Supporting them to get on with life

They may need support to do their daily living tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, budgeting. However, they should be involved in everything that happens in their life; always think about the best way to do this.

If you are supporting them with their personal care (washing, dressing, using the toilet, eating and drinking etc…) please do so in a sensitive and respectful way that maintains their dignity. You need to be patient as their relationship with you is important. If they like being with you they are more likely to take an active part in the things you do together.

Helping them to learn

They may take longer to learn new things and need more time and repetition. They may find it harder to concentrate on things. They may be more easily distracted or get tired more quickly. They are likely to find it harder to concentrate if they are uncomfortable, tired, bored, uninterested, or they are finding the activity confusing or hard to do.

Keeping safe

They have the right to live their life free from abuse. There are some things that can place them at particular risk of abuse. These may include; being more dependent on others for help, finding it difficult to communicate what is happening, not understanding that it is not ok or that it can be stopped. Many people with a learning disability say they experience harassment when out and about. Changes in their behaviour, the amount of money or possessions they have, their physical or emotional state or unexplained injuries are some possible signs that they are being abused.

Specific tips for autism

  1. They are not “autistic.” They are first, foremost, and always a person and have autism. Do not confuse them with their condition.
  2. They are individuals. Make an effort to know them as individuals, to understand their strengths, their weaknesses, and them.
  3. They deserve services, just like everyone. Services for them begin early. Autism is a public health issue in many countries of the world.
  4. They belong in the health care system. They need to be included in regular health care. The health care system should adapt to them by using, for example, easy-to-read materials and technology where appropriate.
  5. They belong with other people. They can and should be placed in regular social settings and special support should be provided to them in those places.
  6. They belong with their family. No government agency can take the place of their family.
  7. They belong in society. They want to make a contribution. The services they need should be guided by self-determination, relationships, and inclusion in all the activities of their community.
  8. They have human rights and will face discrimination for many reasons. Many of them live in poverty with no community support system. Some of them are immigrants or minorities, including sexual minorities. Girls and women with autism are often at greater risk of violence, injury, or abuse.
  9. Above all they belong in the world. They have a role to play.

Further help

London North West Healthcare NHS Trust is one of the largest integrated care trusts in the country, bringing together hospital and community services across Brent, Ealing and Harrow.

Check out https://allkindsofminds.co.uk/ today for course and service information specifically for helping people with autism and learning disabilities.

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