Pain and learning disabilities.

By Anne Welsh – Founder and CEO Painless Universal

September 7th, 2020.

With the school year starting in many parts of the world as part of the push to regain normality in our society post COVID-19, there is the need to shine a light on the population of children that suffer from learning disabilities and the pain they are in. 

Pain can be an important indicator of health problems – however, it is subjective and the experience and expression of pain is unique in every individual. Most pain assessment strategies rely on self-reporting but identifying expressions of pain in people with limited and complex communication needs can be challenging. Some people with learning disabilities have minimal language skills and difficulty using non-verbal communication, such as gestures, eye contact or facial expressions. This can make it hard for them to say when they are in pain, or to explain the location, nature and severity of that pain.

Many scientific studies indicate people with learning disabilities have a shorter life expectancy than the general population and experience greater preventable premature death.  Ill health in this group often goes undiagnosed and untreated. A typical contributing factor is that behaviour changes that could indicate a health problem, are wrongly assigned to a person’s learning disability.

There are tools available to health care professionals that can help in pain determination; however, it is important that the day to day carer who is the front-line for determining if that person is in pain also be skilled in identification.  The family or carer’s knowledge of that person when they are feeling well and when they are not is a most important input. By focusing questions on how the patient has responded in past situations when pain and distress were thought to be present can support health care professionals in making a determination.

For many children with mental based disabilities, the return of school can be a welcoming time when routine is reinstated in their lives and a sense of wonder returns.  For all the carers that must take on such a difficult task of reintegrating these children into school life it is important that you are aware of the pressures placed on yourself and how you are responding.   The mental health of the carer is equally as important as your level of functioning has a direct influence on the person in your care.  Take time to understand your pain and what you are doing to ensure that you don’t become a patient yourself.

Read also: A History Lesson On Mental Health(Opens in a new browser tab)


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