Learning disability



We estimate that over half a million adult social care workers support people who are living with a learning disability and/ or autistic people in England. 

It's vital that these workers have the right values, skills and knowledge to provide high quality, person-centred support. 

We have resources to help adult social care employers develop their workforce. 

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a reduced intellect ability and difficulty with everyday activities, such as a significantly reduced ability to:

  • understand new information or to learn new skills (impaired intelligence)
  • cope independently (impaired adaptive and/or social functioning)
  • interact with other people. 

Each of these three criteria must be met before someone can be said to have a learning disability - intelligence quotient (IQ) alone should not be used to determine presence of a learning disability.

There are different types of learning disability, which can be mild, moderate or severe, which will affect the level of support someone needs. People with specific conditions, such as autism, can have a learning disability too. 

How can we help?

Our resources explain what skills and knowledge workers need to support people with learning disabilities, their carers and families, and how adult social care employers can develop the skills of their staff when working with people with a learning disability.  

What's new? 

Supporting people who need care and support to have meaningful relationships

Everyone has the right to have meaningful personal relationships, including people with learning disabilities. It’s vital that adult social care workers have the right values, skills and knowledge to support people with personal relationships – and training is a vital part of this.

This new guidance helps employers to think about how they can develop their staff through training. It explains what workers need to know and understand about personal relationships, and how they can create a workforce development programme. 


The Learning Disabilities Core Skills Education and Training Framework  sets out the skills and knowledge adult social care workers need to deliver high quality care and support for people with learning disabilities. 

The framework can help you to develop and deliver appropriate and consistent education and training for workers who support people with learning disabilities. 


The Transforming Care Programme is designed to improve services for people with learning disabilities and/or autistic people, who display or are at risk of displaying behaviour which challenges services, including those with a mental health condition.

It's all about driving system-wide change so that more people can live in the community, with the right support, and close to home. This means that fewer people will need to go into hospital for their care. 

To do this, there needs to be suitable services available in the community. 

The aims of the programme are outlined in the national plan, Building the Right Support

We're working with other stakeholders to support the ambitions of the Transforming Care programme, by supporting adult social care services to ensure their workforce is confident and capable to support people with a learning disability in the community.

Find out more about the Transforming Care Programme


Positive behavioural support (PBS) is a person-centred approach to people with a learning disability who may be at risk of displaying behaviour which challenges. 

It involves understanding the reasons for behaviour and considering the person as a whole - including their life history, physical health and emotional needs - to implement ways of supporting the person. 

It focuses on teaching new skills to replace the behaviour which challenges. 

We have resources to help, including a guide to arranging and paying for training in PBS.

Find out more about positive behavioural support.


Restrictive practices

However, we do recognise that sometimes care workers might need to use some form of restrictive practice or intervention, such as physical restraint or seclusion. 

Any form of restrictive intervention must be legally and ethically justified. 

Our A positive and proactive workforce guide shows commissioners and employers how they can develop and support their workers to minimise restrictive practices and ensure they're only ever used appropriately. 


It's vital that people with learning disabilities are supported to access the right eye care and vision services. 

Adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious eye problems, which can seriously undermine quality of life and lead to avoidable sight loss and increased dependency. 

Here are some tips for workers supporting people with learning disabilities.

  • Support people with learning disabilities to have an eye test at least every two years, or more often if needed.
  • Understand how people with learning disabilities use their sight, and the signs that they might be having difficulty seeing. SeeAbility's Functional Vision Assessment Tool is a great starting point in eye care support - but ensure you share the outcomes and any concerns with an eye care professional. 
  • Some optometrists offer additional services to support people with learning disabilities such as picture tests instead of letters, longer appointments, multiple visits including familiarisation visits, easy read information and staff who’ve had training about the specific needs of people with learning disabilities. Use SeeAbility’s optometrist database to find a service in your area.
  • Choose a pair of glasses that the person likes and make sure they’re comfortable to wear.
  • Ensure the person and staff know when the glasses should be worn, for example reading, watching TV or at all times.
  • Record a person’s eye care and vision support in their support plan, communication passport, health action plan and annual reviews.
  • It might be useful to introduce the glasses for short spells of time initially to help the person get used to them.
  • Support the person to clean their glasses regularly.
  • If someone has a visual impairment, organise an assessment by a specialist rehabilitation worker to assess their independence and communication in everyday activities. 

SeeAbility has lots of short factsheets and films about eye tests, wearing glasses and eye conditions for people with learning disabilities and those who support them. 


This research report (published in July 2016) explores the adult social care workforce supporting people with learning disabilities and/ or autistic people, using data from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care. 

Here are some of the key findings. 

  • An estimated two fifths of adult social care workers (621,000) were involved in providing care and support for people with learning disabilities and/ or autistic people in 2014. 
  • 31.8% of workers in these services started their roles within the past 12 months and 26.2% left within the last 12 months. 
  • Almost 80% of senior care workers and 50% of care workers were qualified to a level 2 or above - this is similar to the England average across all care services. 

Download the full report here.