Preparing for adult learning disability services

It is important that young people and their families have the right support when moving on from children’s services and preparing for adulthood. This process of moving from children’s to adult learning disability services is commonly known as 'transition'.

Adult Learning Disability Services are specialist services, designed to meet the often complex needs of people who have been formally diagnosed with a learning disability. Families have often expressed their confusion when their son or daughter (identified with a 'learning difficulty' in their statement of educational need) is unable to access 'learning disability' services. It is important to understand the distinction between 'learning difficulty' and 'learning disability'. In educational settings, students may well have had support with their learning difficulty (dyslexia or ADHD etc). This support is offered to students who require additional educational resources to achieve desired learning outcomes in school. The outcomes are set by the national curriculum. Students with hearing, visual or other physical impairments can be described as having a learning difficulty. However, their intelligence or 'cognitive functioning' may well be within the average or indeed, above average range. The term 'learning difficulty' relates to the difficulty a student has accessing the curriculum. It usually means additional funding will be required for support in the classroom. It doesn't necessarily mean the person will have a below average IQ or learning disability.

People with a learning disability however, have a global cognitive impairment. Their intelligence or ability to cope independently will be formally assessed by appropriately qualified specialists. The measured severity of someone's learning disability will dictate whether they will be eligible for specialist support into adulthood. The common definition of learning disability used by the Department of Health is:

Learning disability includes the presence of:

  • A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence IQ below 70), with;
  • A reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning);
  • which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

Valuing People (2001).

In summary, the number of young people with learning disability, eligible for specialist services, will be a fraction of those identified with ‘learning difficulties'. People with learning disabilities will most likely have a learning difficulty (ADHD, Dyslexia etc) but the reverse is often not the case.

Oxleas provides adult community learning disability services across Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich. Each of these Oxleas services is funded by the NHS to provide specialist support for people with a learning disability from the age of 18. However, it is important to begin the planning stages for transition much earlier than this. The Department of Health recommends that children's services work jointly with adult learning disability teams from the age of 14 (at the Year 9 review) onwards.

From a health perspective, children tend to receive specialist health support from their paediatrician. This specialist medical support for children is a single point of access for all NHS services, meeting the entire range of health needs. Adult services are different and typically offered by a range of providers. As such, it is important that an individual's health needs are thoroughly assessed before they leave children's services. All NHS services must work together to make sure the responsibility for meeting an individual's needs is handed over effectively.

For people with more complex needs, this planning can involve a number of services and should begin as early as possible (aged 14 onwards) to allow enough time for the right support to be arranged. Eligibility criteria apply to all specialist services, highlighting the importance of developing personalised plans as soon as possible.

Further information

Contact Mark Bradley (Clinical Lead for Transition) for any further information relating to health services and transition for young people with learning disabilities at mbradley1@nhs.net or by phone on 020 8269 3349.

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