Key terms and phrases

Learning disability

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability. Someone with a learning disability may take longer to learn or understand new things, and may need support with money management, everyday tasks, or socialising. In total roughly 1m people in the country have a learning disability.

Everyone with a learning disability is affected differently. Some may live wholly independent lives. Others may need support to get and keep a job. Those with more severe disabilities, or complex needs such as learning disabilities combined with physical disabilities and conditions such as epilepsy or autism, may need full time support throughout life.

For a minority of people, difficulties in communication, coupled with inappropriate living environments, can lead to so-called ‘challenging behaviour.’

Challenging behaviour is not integral to a person’s personality, nor, except in rare occasions, is it appropriate to manage it through medication; the answer is to offer skilled, person-centred support that allows an individual to express their choices and gain control over their life.

People with learning disabilities are not treated equally in our society. Very few have jobs, are married or have children.

They live much shorter lives than their non-learning disabled counterparts. Although things have moved on a long way from the days of institutionalising people from childhood, grave inequality remains.

Dimensions supports people with all levels and complexities of learning disability to lead independent lives in their local community.


Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that affects how a person perceives the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means everybody experiences it differently and at different levels. A very small minority of people with autism have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high functioning autism that is characterised in film – less often in real life – by genius.

People with autism often experience something called sensory sensitivity, this is where sounds (and even silence) can be deafening, lights can be blinding, smells can be overwhelming and touch can be painful.

They may also have difficulty recognising emotional cues, such as facial expressions and maintaining eye contact. This can sometimes give the impression they don’t want to talk or are rude.

Some people with autism don’t talk at all and have other means of communicating (such as pictures or Makaton). Some people are very honest or abrupt. This isn’t intended to be rude, but can cause confusion or tension where understanding is lacking.

If you see someone, child or adult, having what appears to be a tantrum (hands over their ears or eyes, erratic movements, making noises) they may be experiencing a meltdown. This is a response to stress in the environment around them. It can be difficult for people who aren’t trained in autism awareness to understand how to help. If possible, offer the person a quiet, private space and a glass of water.