Learning Difficulties in the Workplace

Written by CWD Editor
Last updated Thursday February 17 2022

Learning difficulties are a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that influence the way an individual’s brain processes information. These can affect specific skills and aspects, such as reading, writing, speaking, reasoning and memory.

While learning difficulties can present challenges at work, there are steps that adults can take to manage their performance. Focusing on strengths can help foster confidence and self-esteem.

People with learning difficulties can undertake most jobs on the market. Therefore, it is vital for employers who value inclusivity and diversity to provide the right support in the workplace.

Here are examples of common strengths that many adults with learning difficulties and disabilities have in common:

  • Creative problem-solving skills.
  • Being resourceful and able to use and adapt materials in creative ways.
  • Ability to thrive in spatial reasoning, empathy and thinking outside of the box.


While focusing on strengths can be an effective way to overcome stigmas around people with learning difficulties and disabilities, it is important to consider the challenges workers might face at work. Feelings of inadequacy can have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health. Factors that can affect people with learning disabilities include:

  • Lack of support from employers.
  • Lack of career opportunities and professional development.
  • Likelihood to get a limited salary.
  • Lack of reasonable adjustments at work.
  • Lack of technology.

Communication Difficulties

Adults with learning difficulties might find it difficult to communicate because of a disorder affecting their brain. It is vital for employers to re-evaluate how they communicate with the individual. For instance, they should consider their tone of voice, how quickly they speak and how they use their body language and gestures to emphasise what they are saying. It is important to keep in mind that people with learning difficulties may be affected by other people’s reactions to their conditions.

Here is a useful list of tips for communicating effectively with people with learning disabilities:

  • Giving specific and detailed instructions, written or with pictorial aids.
  • Allowing plenty of time and being prepared to repeat information more than once.
  • Using positive instructions. For instance, instead of saying “don’t use the red pen” you could say “use the black pen”.
  • Checking that the individual understands your instructions. Asking them to repeat instructions back can be a useful way to ensure your message was clear.
  • Demonstrating activities or tasks.
  • Introducing and clarifying policies and procedures regarding working hours, contact, uniform standards, etc.
  • Ensuring face to face communication.
  • Involving the individual’s mentor to give support when providing a considerable level of feedback, such as appraisals and supervision meetings.

Supporting People with Learning Difficulties During Interviews

Formal interviews can be a daunting experience for many people. They can be particularly challenging for candidates with learning disabilities as they do not always allow applicants to demonstrate their strengths. Because of the way interviews are structured, candidates are asked hypothetical questions, which might pose a challenge to adults with learning difficulties.

As a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act, employers could refrain from formally interviewing candidates. Instead, they could have a short, practical assessment in the workplace in which the applicant can visually see the skills required for the job and demonstrate their capacity to carry out relevant tasks.

Moreover, it is vital to consider a work trial that could last between one and eight weeks, depending on the complexity of the role. During the trial, employers can breakdown duties into smaller, easier to process tasks.

If employers require an interview, a reasonable adjustment can be encouraging candidates to bring along a mentor or supporter. Additionally, here are some other examples of how businesses and organisations can support applicants during interviews:

  • Informing the candidate of the interview structure – for instance, how many people will be attending, how many questions will be asked, or how long the interview might last.
  • Considering a reduced number of people interviewing – it is important to make the interview as informal as possible.
  • Using plain English and ensuring that the applicant understands any question you might ask – offering to rephrase questions is a great way to do so.

Useful Resources

Mencap is the leading charity for learning disability in the United Kingdom. Their vision is a world where people with learning difficulties and disabilities are valued, listened to, and included. The services they provide range from offering local leisure activities to providing information on education, employment and live an independent life.

Additionally, you can find plenty of information on our Disability Advice Hub. For further information, you can read our page on learning disabilities.

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Last Updated: Thursday February 17 2022

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