Learning disabilities

Housing, work, learning and communication are a challenge for many people with a learning difficulty. We provide knowledge to help improve the care and support offered for them, so that they can function more independently in society and have more control over their lives.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a developmental disorder characterised by impairment of intellectual function and adaptive ability. People with a learning disability develop less quickly and often have difficulty processing information. They also find it difficult to learn new skills and perform daily tasks independently.

What is the impact of a learning disability?

The impact of a learning disability manifests in various areas, including development, daily life, interaction with others, work and education. People with a learning disability often receive help with housing, work, learning and making contact. Some also have behavioural problems or a psychological disorder.

What causes learning disabilities?

There are numerous causes of learning disabilities, including genetic factors, prenatal problems, complications at birth, infection and exposure to certain substances. Some people have a non-congenital brain injury, their learning disability caused by illness, stroke or a serious accident.

Different degrees of disability

People may have mild, moderate, severe or profound learning difficulties.

  • The biggest category is people with a mild learning disability, who tend to have problems with communication, abstract thought, planning and managing money.
  • People with a moderate learning disability (MLD) often need support at school and work and in their personal life.
  • People with a severe learning disability (SLD) often require extensive support with daily tasks and activities. Some have severe learning disabilities combined with challenging behaviour. The term multiple severe disability is used for people who have severe physical disabilities in combination with severe or profound learning disabilities.
  • People with profound learning disabilities or profound learning and multiple disabilities are generally highly dependent on assistance with personal care and daily tasks.

The role of ZonMw

The role of ZonMw is to develop, disseminate and apply knowledge to improve care and support for people with learning disabilities. The goal is to allow them to function more independently in society and have more control over their life. These efforts involve scientists as well as healthcare professional, people with learning difficulties and their representatives, informal carers and other stakeholders. ZonMw has several programmes in this area. The Gewoon Bijzonder (‘Just Special’) programme aims to improve care and support for people with a learning disability, multiple disabilities or non-congenital brain injury. The Learning Disabilities Academic Collaborative Centre has been set up to improve the quality of care for disabled people and create an adequate knowledge infrastructure.




If you have any questions, you are able to find our contact information below.


Linda Gerth

Programmamanager Gewoon Bijzonder
gewoonbijzonder [at] zonmw.nl

Rinske Boersma

AWGehandicaptenzorg [at] zonmw.nl