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Learning disability and autism have been in the headlines this week, with report after report finding continued failings in the way people with learning disability and/or autism are cared for and supported.  These reports raise serious questions about how people with complex needs are supported and engaged with and the focus, or the lack thereof, which we place on good communication. 


A report from the Children’s Commissioner found that the number of children with learning disabilities or autism living in mental health hospitals has doubled since 2015, with the quality of care highly variable. A further report from Care Quality Commission into restraint found an increase in people with a learning disability and/or autism being held on long-term segregation and on mental health wards.  

This was followed by the Third Report from the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review which reported ongoing concerns over the quality of care for people with learning disability.  To round this off, BBC Panorama broadcasted an expose that revealed staff still using abusive behaviour to people with learning disability eight years on from the Winterbourne scandal. 

What can be done?

Most people with learning disabilities and/or autism have speech, language and communication difficulties, yet the role of good communication is still hidden or overlooked.  Everyone needs to know what good communication support ‘looks like’ and what reasonable adjustments they can make to achieve it.  However, these reports reveal what happens when communication is not supported and the risks for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.  

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists strongly urges that action is taken to ensure that: 

  • Reasonable adjustments are in place to support all people with a learning disability and/or autism to communicate their wishes, needs and feelings.  All services must be required to embed the Five Good Communication Standards 
  • All staff, who provide care, must be properly trained to support people with complex needs 
  • There is joined-up support from multi-disciplinary teams, including speech and language therapists, provided to all people with learning disability and/or autism that need it.

References 

Five Good Communication Standards - produced by the RCSLT 

Children’s Commissioner “Far less than they deserve” 

Care Quality Commission Interim report: Review of restraint, prolonged seclusion and segregation for people with a mental health problem, a learning disability and or autism

Third Report from the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review