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Caring and illnesses

Young carers and learning disability

If someone has a learning disability, it means that they may find it more difficult to learn, understand and communicate. Learning disabilities are not a mental illness, but can be caused by some illnesses or problems before or during birth, or develop during childhood or as the result of an illness. It is not always possible to tell what causes someone's learning disability.

People with learning disabilities may need more help with everyday tasks, but with the right kinds of help and support they are often able to go to school and college, and live and work completely independently.

Autism and Asperger syndrome

Autism spectrum disorders is the name for a group of similar conditions and includes autism and Asperger syndrome. Someone who is autistic or has Asperger syndrome might have difficulties in a number of different areas.

Social difficulties

Someone with an autism spectrum disorder may appear confused or scared by people, especially people that they don't know, and may find it difficult to make friends. People with the condition often don't like others coming into their personal space.

Difficulties with language and communication

People with the condition can have a range of difficulties with language and communication. Some may find it difficult to speak, while some may choose not to talk, and others may talk a lot. They may also have trouble understanding words or facial expressions.


Sometimes the world may not appear to make sense to a person who has an autism spectrum disorder, and they may seem as if they are living in their own world. They may find it difficult to cope with change or new situations and like things to be done in a certain way.

Autism can affect people in lots of different ways. Nobody really knows what causes autism, but doctors are still finding new ways of helping people who have autism to learn skills and live happier lives.

Down's syndrome

Each cell in the human body contains chromosomes, which contain our genes. These chromosomes are copied when new cells are made. People usually have 23 pairs of chromosomes, but somebody born with Down's syndrome has an extra chromosome. This causes their body and their brain to develop differently, although nobody is really sure why this happens.

People with Down's syndrome tend to look different and also tend to be shorter than average. Almost half of people affected have heart defects, some of which can be treated, some of which cannot. They may also have hearing or sight problems, and later in life there's also an increased risk of diseases such as leukaemia and Alzheimer's disease.

Some people with Down's syndrome may have only a moderate learning disability, but others may have a severe learning disability. People with Down's syndrome used to have a shorter life expectancy than other people, but now most people with the condition can expect to live into their sixties.


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Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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