Time goes on. One of those inevitable things that we all wish we could avoid is that time passes, and we will get older. For some though, this process is complicated by the simple fact of their DNA. Individuals who are born with learning disabilities face many challenges throughout their lives, due to the structure of our society and how slowly we’re changing to be more inclusive of those with disabilities. However, as these individuals grow older, the challenges change and it’s essential that as a society, and most importantly as an industry, we put the correct structures in place to give them the support they need.
Why do we need new systems?
There are 1.5 million people living in the UK with learning disabilities. That’s 1.5 million people who don’t fit in the standard ‘box’ of what a citizen in our society is like. 1.5 million people who approach the world in a slightly different way, and therefore may find our current way of caring for people as they grow older creates even more challenges. Furthermore, thanks to our advances in healthcare, we’re all living longer, especially those with learning disabilities. This means that we’re having to learn how to care for people who historically weren’t a major player in the social care sector. Whereas it’s much more common now, being able to effectively care for older people with learning disabilities or who differed from the stereotype was rarely a concern in previous generations. This means that our sector built itself around the idea that we can get away with a “one size fits all” system.
The social work and care sector is all about ensuring that every person in the UK has the best possible life they can achieve, no matter their background, personal circumstances, health or financial state. We want to make sure that everyone has a satisfying and fulfilling life. However, despite this ambition, at times those with learning disabilities miss out. People who have communication issues don’t always get the consideration they need and can’t express themselves as effectively; or those who view the world with more of a child-like wonder are sometimes forced to adapt to a much more grown-up way of life, making them uncomfortable and unsettled.
Personalisation is key
Learning disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. Some may only rank mildly on the Autism Spectrum, while others struggle with even the most basic of tasks due to the way their brain is programmed. No matter what differences we all have though, everyone is entitled to equal support and care. Due to this variation in what a learning disability can present as, there is vast pressure on services to be able to personalise care and support. Social workers need to be able to tailor an assessment with a service user in order to make them as comfortable and at ease as possible; and care professionals should ensure that their care homes or at home care service understands how to change a procedure to suit the individual. Let’s make it easier to design care homes with personalised care as the norm, so that going in, everyone can feel welcome and at home. If we increase the training and resources available about growing older with learning disabilities, then social workers can go into a process with a better understanding and insight into how to facilitate effective change.
Promote the Profession
Across the whole of social work and care, we are in dire need of new recruits, that much is true. There simply aren’t enough people entering the profession to meet the growing demand across children’s, adults and mental health services. An issue that arises is that working with adults who have learning disabilities isn’t always a first-choice profession. With so many different areas of social work to consider, practitioners are sometimes reluctant to choose a field where there’s less support or the procedures will be more complicated – like working with adults with learning difficulties.
Therefore we need to push for a variety of changes, so that adults with learning disorders, disabilities or difficulties are supported in every way that those who do not have these challenges are. Firstly, there needs to be a much wider availability of training for professionals working with these individuals, so that they are aware of how best to care for them and help them through various stages of their lives. Secondly, adults with learning disabilities need to be involved in the process of creating resources and guides for practitioners so that the information being passed on is honest and appropriate. If we make this part of the system inclusive and collaborative, we’ll build practices that ensure the service user is kept at the absolute heart of things. It’ll also widen our knowledge about the different ways to personalise a practice, some of which we may not usually consider but could make the world of difference to a person in these situations. Lastly, a key action should be to encourage student social workers or those considering social care to choose this route. Supporting an older person who views the world in a unique way can be some of the most rewarding work there is, so let’s tell our young people this. Within the drive to boost recruitment in social care, let’s inform people about the emotional fulfilment you can get by being there for these individuals when they really need it.
One Stop Social have a whole range of helpful guides, booklets, tools and more in our Resources Page which can help develop good practice when working with people with learning disabilities. If you want further support as a practitioner then get in touch and see how else we can help!