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Myths about learning disability – debunked!

For most of her clinical career, Sheila Counihan, Lecturer in Nursing in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, has cared for and supported people with learning disabilities.

Sheila is qualified in Adult and Mental Health nursing with a Masters degree in Learning Disability Mental Health. She’s currently leading on the development of a new distance learning pre-registration learning disability nursing programme for the OU which we hope to launch in the near future.

We asked her to debunk some myths about learning disability:

Myth: people with learning disabilities are challenging

Fact: There is no such thing as ‘people’ with learning disabilities. Each person is unique and their level of ability and disability varies.

It’s not true that a person who has a learning disability is always challenging. Just like any of us, if they are frightened, in pain, frustrated, bored, cold, hot, thirsty, or hungry, they may be challenging at times.

Myth: people with learning disabilities can’t learn

Fact: Having a learning disability does not mean you can’t learn new things.

With the right support and encouragement and appropriate opportunities, every person with a learning disability, just like anyone else, can learn and develop throughout their life.

Myth: people with learning disabilities can’t express themselves

Fact: A person who has learning disabilities may have difficulty expressing themselves, to varying degrees at different times, in different circumstances.

This will depend on the extent of their learning disability and how well those around them can understand their communication pattern.

Myth: You can grow out of learning disabilities

Fact: A learning disability is a lifelong condition that is identified before the age of 18 years of age – before the brain is fully developed. A person with a learning disability can learn and develop throughout their lives.

Myth: All learning disabilities are the same

Fact: This is not true. People have different levels of ability and disability and there are many different reasons why a person is living with a learning disability.


Find out more

Find out about learning disability nursing and why it’s different

Read more about learning disability

About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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