Knowledge of social care staff about learning disability: 20 years on

Karen McKenzie, George Murray*, Rachel Martin, Dale Metcalfe

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background It is important for social care staff to understand what a learning disability is so that they can identify people with learning disabilities and provide them with the support they need.

Aim To explore whether there have been changes in the knowledge of social care staff about the diagnostic criteria for learning disability more than 20 years after the researchers first explored the topic.

Method A sample of 264 social care staff were asked to describe what they understood by ‘learning disability’. Their responses were compared with the three diagnostic criteria of learning disability – that is, significant impairments in intellectual functioning, significant impairments in adaptive functioning and childhood onset.

Results Impairments in intellectual functioning was the most commonly identified criterion and childhood onset the least commonly identified criterion. Only 5% of participants (n=13) identified all three criteria, while 57% (n=150) identified none or only one of the criteria.

Conclusion While the results are an improvement on those found more than 20 years ago, they still indicate an ongoing need for improved understanding, among social care staff, of what a learning disability is, and learning disability nurses have a role to play in this.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalLearning Disability Practice
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Apr 2022


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