What kind of clients will I work with?

Around 1 in 50 people living in the UK have some level of learning disability, which makes it harder to learn, communicate, and do everyday tasks. Each person will have varying abilities and face different challenges, often made harder by the increased physical and mental health problems they suffer from, such as epilepsy.

Learning disability is quite different to other branches of nursing. The focus is not ‘making people better’, but enabling people to reach their full potential.

Read Sarah's full story.

What will I do for my clients?
You will help them to get – and stay – as physically and mentally healthy as possible. This includes helping them to develop skills for living a more fulfilling or independent life.

Better health and greater independence help people with learning disabilities to be more accepted by society, so this type of care is vital to both the individual and the wider community.

Where will I work?
This branch of nursing is mainly focused around the client’s home, work, or leisure activities.

You will gain experience in:

  • people’s homes
  • schools
  • adult education
  • workplaces
  • community or residential centres.

You will also play an important role in helping people with learning disabilities to access health services. This may involve helping healthcare professionals to understand your client’s needs better so they can work out the best way to deliver care.

Who will I work with?
You will work as part of a multidisciplinary team which could include social workers, teachers and even the police or prison service, as well as specialists such as:

  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • care managers
  • speech and language therapists
  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists

My role is very people-oriented: I train and support residential staff teams, clients and parents, and work jointly with lots of health and social care practitioners.

Read Sarah's full story.

What kind of jobs could I do?
Once you are a registered nurse, you can progress your career in any direction that takes your interest. The roles described here are just a few examples of what’s possible with this qualification.  

You could work as a community learning disability nurse in a community learning disability team.

There are also chances to specialise in:

  • particular disabilities, such as epilepsy, a sensory disability or autism 
  • specific areas, such as education 

Managerial roles could include leading a team of support staff or managing services.

What kind of person makes a good learning disability nurse?
Someone who can deal with people sensitively: everyone you work with, not just your clients. This means you will need to be a calm, clear communicator.

You’ll also need to be able to interpret other types of communication, such as body language, into something that may help a person’s condition.

Community behaviour specialists use their skills to interpret what a client is communicating through their behaviour. Even after five years, my job is still fascinating, as every case is unique.

Read Sarah's full story.

Your role is to advocate for patients, to support their needs and promote their interests – including protecting them from discrimination. That could mean being very patient one moment and assertive the next.

Good organisation skills also help, as you will need to be aware of local activities and plan them with your clients, liaise with hospital admissions staff and healthcare teams, support carers and staff in the community, carry out group behavioural work and assist with observations and evaluations.  

It helps if you are self-aware too, as the job can sometimes be demanding. Problem solving skills are also beneficial.

Like every other branch of nursing, you need to be committed to learning and always keeping your skills and knowledge up to date.

What’s the best thing about learning disability nursing?
You will play a key part in helping vulnerable people to be included in their community and support them in accessing services.  

Making progress with your clients can take time but, perhaps because of that, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction when you see a person improve in health, learn a new skill or grow in confidence as a result of your actions.

What I love most is helping a client achieve something that’s important to them, whether that’s teaching a new skill, preventing self-harm or enabling them to access their local community.

Read Sarah's full story.

Is this for me?
Why not take our personality quiz and find out?

Read real life stories from registered nurses for their views on what nursing is really like.