Educating someone with a learning disability on the importance of self-isolation

By: Philippa Harrington, On: 31 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic-imposed lockdown, and the requirement for some to self-isolate, has changed the routine of people across the country over recent months. This is a particularly difficult and stressful time, especially for those with a learning disability whose usual structure and routine have been disrupted. We aim to explain key facts about the pandemic, which we hope will make daily life a little more manageable for those with learning disabilities and those providing care.


How to help someone with a learning disability understand Covid-19 and self-isolation

The country has now been in lockdown for more than 2 months; however, the government has announced a series of steps which will see the restrictions eased. Although individuals can now exercise more than once per day and some public spaces have reopened, it is important to follow social distancing guidelines and the rules relating to self-isolation wherever necessary.

This begins by helping individuals with a learning disability understand the symptoms of the virus and how to keep themselves safe. The symptoms of the virus are a high temperature and a new, continuous cough, which means coughing for more than an hour or experiencing more than 3 coughing episodes within 24 hours.

If someone in a household has symptoms of coronavirus or a positive test has confirmed that an individual has the virus, the government has provided clear advice. If someone in a household, other than the person with a learning disability, has symptoms, this person must stay at home for 7 days or until their symptoms have disappeared. Other members of the household need to stay at home for 14 days. However, if you care for an individual which is classed as being within a clinically vulnerable group, you should self-isolate within the home to keep yourself separate. Click here for more information on the government’s advice.

Hidden Disabilities - Self Isolation

If you have a learning disability & live with someone who shows symptoms of the virus, it’s important that you self-isolate for 7 days.


If an individual with a learning disability develops symptoms, they also need to follow the stay at home guidance described above. However, if the individual requires care, you can continue to provide this while taking necessary precautions, if others in the household are not classed as clinically vulnerable. If a person with a learning disability develops symptoms or tests positive, try to explain the importance of the following measures while they self-isolate:

1) Explain that staying inside their home for 7 days will stop the virus from spreading to others.

2) Ask them to stay in their own room and use a separate bathroom if possible. Explain that this could protect others in the home from catching the virus.

3) If the individual needs to use a shared space, such as a kitchen, explain that this should be kept to a minimum. Emphasise that you will still be in the home and can help them with anything they may need.

4) Explain the importance of personal hygiene and cleaning. As a carer, if you need to provide assistance with washing and bathing, explain that you will need to physically distance yourself where possible.

5) Explain that all laundry will need to be kept separate, with towels not shared.

6) If anyone in the household is classed as extremely vulnerable, you may need to ask friends and family to assist. Wherever possible, try to choose a person which the individual is familiar with and explain why this is necessary.


Helping individuals to cope with lockdown and self-isolation

Across the country, both those with and without learning difficulties thrive on busy, fulfilled lives when being fully included in society. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, our daily lives are limited, and we all need to make changes to the way we live. This health crisis has led to fear, confusion and feelings of anxiety, which inevitably brings challenges for people with learning disabilities.

Disability - Communication

Include those with learning disabilities in all family discussions to help their understanding of the pandemic.


Every person will require individual support, so consider the strategies which usually provide reassuring support during difficult times. Include those with learning disabilities within family discussions as much as possible, as this will aid with their understanding and help them feel in control of their lives. There are several strategies which can be used to explain the pandemic and the importance of lockdown and self-isolation simply and calmly. For example:

1) Emphasise the aspects of daily life which are remaining unchanged. Explain how even during lockdown or self-isolation, daily routines such as daily exercise, meals and sleep routines will remain normal.

2) Where possible, the person who provides support with daily tasks should continue to do so. However, if this is not possible, explain that this person may be able to keep in contact via phone or video calls.

3) It is important to explain as simply as possible why life has temporarily changed. Start by explaining that there is a virus which could make people ill, however by self-isolating and following lockdown rules, we can all try to keep safe.

4) Emphasise that these difficult changes will not be forever, that the virus will pass and our lives will return to normal.

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