This information page answers four questions about what to do if you are worried about the safety of someone with a learning disability, and who you should tell. It also describes what happens when child and adult protection referrals are made.
Where can people with learning disabilities get trauma support?
What kind of support is there to help people with learning disabilities get over a traumatic experience?
Sadly, children and adults with learning disabilities who display behaviour that challenges are at risk of being intentionally or unintentionally abused by people who support them. Their experiences may include:
- Excessive restraint, such as being held by several people or for long periods
- Being locked in a room alone, called isolation or seclusion
- Being given sedative medication that makes them feel ‘zoned out’ or unwell
- Other inappropriate responses to their behaviour, including punishment
- Intentional abuse, such as being hit or sexually assaulted
These are all traumatic experiences, which may be even more confusing and scary for someone with learning disabilities who cannot understand why this happened to them or whether it may happen again. Witnessing the abuse of someone else, such as a sibling or another resident in a care home, can also be traumatic.
For support to be offered after these experiences, someone needs to know that a traumatic experience has happened or suspect that it may have happened. Signs of trauma in a child or adult with severe learning disabilities who cannot communicate may be; strange reactions to everyday situations, using actions or words they did not use before, withdrawal from others or clinging to someone, and an increase in challenging behaviour. For example, someone who was restrained on the floor regularly now lies down on the floor when an incident escalates.
Types of support available
It is important for someone who has experienced trauma to get appropriate support to help them move on and feel safe. This does not need to be specifically named trauma support and can be provided by the local Community Learning Disability Team. Support may include arranging one or more of the following therapies or activities for them:
- Talking therapy, including Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
- Dance therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Intensive interaction
- Play therapy
Organisations that govern or represent these approaches are listed at the end of this page.
Resources are available to help someone talk about and think about their experiences, for example Books Beyond Words produce a book called ‘I can get through it’. Ask for professional supervision to use this kind of resource.
Depending on how the person gets on with the support offered and how severe the effects of the trauma are for them, they may also need a specialist referral, for example to assess for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Helping your family member
If there are problems accessing the above therapies or you think it will be some time until your family member has an appointment, there are things that families can do to help. Try having more family time, think about ways to help your relative feel safe and secure. Make sure their environment and daily routine is predictable and that they have some choice and control, such as being able to leave a place if they are feeling anxious. Do activities they enjoy and find calming. Seek help for yourself and other members of the family too. The CBF’s film Everybody Matters shows that people with learning disabilities can be supported to move on from traumatic experiences.
Organisations where you can find out more about therapies
If you know or suspect there has been an incident or practices that harmed someone with a learning disability or put them at risk, please see our Safeguarding information at the link below.