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Understanding support needs

What is a learning disability?

“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.”

Around 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability and around 350,000 of those have a severe learning disability. Learning disabilities are often confused with, but distinct from, dyslexia and mental ill health – both of which do not affect a person’s intellect in the same way. Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate or profound. Most people with a learning disability can live an independent life with a bit of support.

Shared Lives is safe, consistent and person-centred, and has a rich history of supporting people with a learning disability to live well. Currently, 8540 (69%) of the people in Shared Lives matches in England have a learning disability.

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.’

In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be harder. Other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, yet can also struggle to build rapport with autistic people. Autistic people may wonder why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean people don’t understand them.

Autistic people often do not ‘look’ disabled. Some parents of autistic children say that other people simply think their child is naughty, while adults find that they are misunderstood.

Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK – nearly one in 100 people. Shared Lives’ emphasis on consistency, stability and relationships is leading to more and more autistic people being supported as part of Shared Lives households. 660 people, just over 5%, of people in Shared Lives matches in England have autism.

What is mental ill health?

‘If you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you’re frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.’

In the UK one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year, and in England a sixth of the population are experiencing mental ill health at any one time. Shared Lives is proven to be a holistic, humane and reliable way of supporting people with mental ill health – which is a growing challenge in our society. After our specialist project to develop the model for this type of need, the number of people using Shared Lives for mental health has increased by 200 people.