Monday, March 12, 2007

Health care for people with learning disabilties

I'm glad to see this is being taken seriously. People with learning disbilities do endure substandard health care because most professionals are clueless about the issues and ways of working positively with people with learning disabilities.

Personally, I have loved my work with people with learning disabilities, and learned a tremendous amount about being human from being around people who our society devalues - when you can't get a PhD, earn a fortune, or take care of yourself, sometimes I think what is left is pure, unadulterated human-ness. It reminds me to value people for people and not their achievements or status.

But its not easy and people with learning disabilities get a shocking deal in the health service. I hope they look into mental health services too, because they are dire for people with learning disabilties (an extremely serious issue as people with learning disabilities are at high risk for developing mental health problems). What is sometimes the most shocking is the attitudes and general lack of knowledge in staff in some settings. I once had to explain to a senior staff member in mental health who asked, "Well how do we know if its psychosis or just his learning disability" that "Hearing voices is not a symptom of learning disabilities. If he's hearing voices and its causing distress its psychosis and should be treated as such."


Claire said...

So true. When I worked with children with autism and other learning and behavioural difficulties it was really difficult to get social workers and other professionals to see each of the child's conditions separately. Often children with specific learning difficulties were also depressed and this needed to be acknowledged and understood in its own right. It was very easy for professionals to lumnp the two together and not investigate the underlying causes of the child's depression, or investigate appropriate ways of supporting the child.

Contemplative Activist said...

Very true Claire - if you're still working in the area or interested in it generally, look up "diagnostic overshadowing". Its where professionals (and other people) see the diagnosis of "learning disabilities" and then don't see other difficulties - which means lots of missed diagnoses or not accessing avenues of help and support.

It is a complete tragedy as the impact of even simple medical treatments or psychotherapies can really have a benefit for some people!


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Malcolm said...

As someone privileged to have some people with learning disabilities call me, and treat me, as a friend, I must admit to being unaware of these problems with the health care services.

Thanks for raising these issues and, one can only hope and pray that these issues will be be taken into account and rectified by health care providers.

Contemplative Activist said...


Services are very mixed. Some people are excellent - and I really hope those people caring for your friends are excellent.

However, sadly, when things go wrong for people who are generally disempowered in our society...they go very wrong.

My main area of work with people who have learning disabilities outside of specialised LD services has been liasing with mental health services, and that has been extremely challenging at times.


Contemplative Activist said...

PS. You could check it out with your friends...and should they ever encounter problems, a confident and articulate advocate can really help :)