Wristwatches organised on top of a dresser.

Learning disabilities: at home

Your home is your refuge and it is important that you feel safe, secure and relaxed at home. 

Keep it simple

If you find that you are overstimulated by too much stuff, then make sure that your home environment is uncluttered, neat and tidy. Neutral colours and simple clean lines can really help.

Choose a small number of soft furnishings and make sure you have plenty of storage space so that you can put things away out of sight.

Getting and staying organised

If you find getting organised is a big challenge, you're not alone. For most people with learning disabilities, getting organised can seem like a very big mountain to climb.

The trick is to break tasks down into smaller steps and follow a systematic approach. By having structures and routines, you will find that getting organised isn't as hard as it seems. There are plenty of tools and aids to help—from printed calendars and daily planners to reminder apps on your mobile phone.

Organising rooms

To organise rooms in your home, begin by deciding:

  • what you need every day;
  • what can be stored; and 
  • what you don't use and can be either thrown away or given to a good cause.

You can then create categories for all of your things. For instance, if you're organising your bedroom, you may want to organise your clothes by type, such as trousers, jumpers, socks, t-shirts, etc. Or you may prefer to categorise things by colour. We are all different, so you'll need to work out what's best for you. 

Ensure that there is a place for everything and have it stored or marked in a way so that you will remember where everything is when you need it. Some people use storage boxes. Others put labels on drawers or cupboards. 

Make sure you have specific areas for things that you use every day, such as your keys and your wallet. You should also make sure you have specific places to put things you may not need on a daily basis but need to attend to on a timely basis (such as  bills or the renewal of your car insurance). 

It may be helpful to make a list of all of the things you might misplace and make sure you have specific, safe and memorable places to store them.

Organising yourself

If you want to get yourself organised, start with:

  • a notepad; 
  • a pen; and 
  • a pack of Post-it notes.

You can begin by getting into the habit of:

  • taking notes of detailed information;
  • writing to-do lists, shopping lists and any other list that will help you remember; and
  • using Post-it notes as visual cues and reminders.

If technology is your thing, check out our Learning disabilities: technology section to find out more.  

Keeping to a routine

In order for you to stay organised, it is important to stick to a routine. 

Giving structure to your day and doing things at the same time each day or in the same order can be very helpful. If you get up at 7 am, brush your teeth, have a shower and then have your coffee and you do this in the same order every day, then you don't have to worry about whether or not you get these things done every day. It will just become a habit. 

On a weekly basis, set specific days and times to do certain tasks. For example, you can do laundry on a Thursday evening, pay bills on a Sunday morning or do food shopping on a Sunday afternoon. 

It's important to make sure you write everything down, especially when you first start getting organised. You can use a calendar or day planner.

Not only will this help you with keeping to your routine, it will also help you remember appointments and deadlines. With electronic calendars, you can also set up automatic reminders.

Making use of lists and notes can be incredibly helpful if you find it difficult to remember things. Alongside the use of a calendar or a day planner, lists and notes can provide the details. They will help you to keep track of what is required in order to complete specific tasks or projects, to support you in meeting deadlines, and to ensure you have everything you need in advance of appointments or meetings. 

If you decide to use a calendar or daily planner, keep all lists and notes inside it. 

If you can, do it now

It may seem easier to put things off until later, but sometimes later never comes and things just don't get done.

Tasks that you can do in a few minutes or less should be done straight away and not put off until later. For example:

  • filing paperwork;
  • returning phone calls;
  • putting your clothes away; and
  • cleaning up messes. 

Stay on top of your paperwork

If you have endless piles of papers, bills, credit card statements and such strewn across your kitchen table, desk or on the floor, you'll need to take a bit of time to sort it out. Don't rush it. Give yourself a whole morning or afternoon to create a paperwork system that works for you.

Set up a filing system

Begin by working out the different types of documents you want to file. You can use large file folders with dividers or smaller separate folders for the different types of documents.

If you use colour coding and clear labelling, it will be a lot easier to find what you need when you need it.

It's good to get into the habit of dealing with mail on a daily basis. This can be both regular mail and electronic mail.

You may find it best to look at your mail as soon as you come home at the end of the day. It helps to have a set place where you can sort the mail out. You'll need to be decisive and choose whether you need to bin it, file it or act on it. Don't procrastinate.

If you're technically savvy, you may find it easier to go digital. Nowadays, many of the organisations that are sending you mail will also have electronic versions. Find the contact number on the paper versions and give them a call to find out if you can go paperless.

Managing your time 

Many people with learning disabilities find it difficult to manage time. You may find that you:

  • lose track of time;
  • procrastinate;
  • miss deadlines;
  • underestimate how much time you need for certain tasks; or 
  • complete tasks in the wrong order. 

If this sounds like you, you'll be glad to know that there are some simple ways to manage your time better. 

Watch the clock

It may sound simple, but getting in the habit of watching the clock will help you keep track of time. You can use any type of  clock or wristwatch, just make sure that it's easy to see at a glance and is highly visible. 

When you start a task, make a note of the time by saying it out loud or writing it down. It's also really helpful to use alarms or timers. Decide in advance when you want to finish the task and set an alarm for that time. 

If the task is long and you will need one or more breaks, try setting the alarm to go off at regular intervals. This will help keep you productive and aware of how much time is going by.

Give yourself plenty of time

If you can, give yourself more time than you think you need, especially if you find it difficult to estimate how long a task will take. For every 30 minutes of time you think a task will take, give yourself a cushion by adding 10 minutes.

Plan to get to places early 

If you need to be at places on time, plan to get there early. It may seem like a silly trick to play on yourself, but it really does work.

Set up reminders on your computer, phone or in your diary for different stages of getting to the appointment, such as when you need to:

  • start getting ready;
  • get any documents together that you may need; and
  • get your bag together, listing contents required (keys, travel card, wallet, etc).

It can also be helpful to set the time of appointments in your diary or calendar for 15 minutes earlier than they really are. 

Setting priorities 

If you find that you often act on impulse or your mind flits from one idea to another, getting things done can easily become overwhelming. There are a few simple things you can do to help clear the way for getting your priorities in order. 

Just say no

If you find yourself agreeing to take on too many projects at work or making too many social arrangements, try saying no. Having a schedule that's too busy can leave you feeling overwhelmed and overtired. This can impact the quality of your work as well as your relationships. 

Check your schedule first

Get in the habit of checking your schedule first before committing to something new. Before deciding, consider what the most important task or tasks are that you need to do, and order your tasks accordingly. If you can fit the new task in realistically, then do so. Otherwise, either say no or schedule the task in when you can prioritise it. 

Break things down into smaller tasks

If a project seems too large to handle in one go, then break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.

This is equally important if you have difficulty remembering or following the sequence of instructions. Organising tasks into smaller, simpler segments ensures that you can set—and stick to—your priorities. 

Stay on task

Do whatever you need to do to stay on task. You may find that setting a timer helps or being in a quiet space without distractions is best. Try out different ways to keep your mind focused.

Developing your communication skills 

It can be really frustrating when you feel that you're not being understood when speaking with other people. Here are our tips for better communication:

  1. Make sure you are in the right environment to be able to pay full attention. If you're in a busy place, make sure you're sitting close enough to see the person's gestures, body language and facial expressions.
  2. If the person you are speaking to is unclear or speaking too fast, don't be afraid to ask them to slow down or speak more clearly. 
  3. Make your main point up front. Let the person you are speaking to know what it is you would like to get across to them. Then fill in the details afterwards.
  4. If the person you are talking to is giving you too much information in one go, ask them to break it down into smaller bits of information.
  5. If you feel you've missed something someone is telling you or you don't fully understand their point, just ask them to repeat it. If the person is unaware of your learning disability or how it impacts communication, explain it to them.
  6. Allow yourself time to take in what someone is telling you or to consider what you want to say. Rushing will only cause you stress. 
  7. Many people with learning disabilities are visual thinkers, so if you don't understand what someone is telling you, it may be better to ask them to show you.
  8. Make sure you have as few distractions as possible. Put your mobile phone down and switch it to vibrate.
  9. If you want to make sure that the person you are speaking to has understood what you've told them, ask them to repeat it back to you in their own words. If you want to make sure that you've understood something someone has told you,  let them know that you like to repeat it back to them in your own words. 
  10. If you need other aids to communicate, such as the use of images, drawing or writing, let the person you are talking to know. This may mean that you delay the conversation until later, but what matters is that you are able to understand and communicate clearly.

Budgeting and managing money

Managing your money can be confusing for anyone. With lots of different service providers and products to choose from, it's difficult to understand which ones are suitable for you. And once you've decided, it's not always easy to know how to manage your finances on a day-to-day basis. 

The British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD) has created Money Skills materials for people with learning disabilities.

These comprehensive resources comprise:

There is also a set of videos to support these resources. Check out the Money Skills Videos section of the BILD website.

For more helpful resources and support, check out Dosh, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities manage their money.

Eating a healthy diet

Having a healthy, well balanced diet is important for everyone. Here are our top tips for healthy eating:

  1. Eat a good breakfast every morning. It sets you up for the day.
  2. Avoid foods that have lots of fat, salt or sugar in them. 
  3. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. You should eat five portions a day to keep a healthy diet. To find out more, have a look at the 5 A Day section on the NHS Choices website.
  4. Try to have at least one portion of vegetables with every meal. 
  5. Eat healthy snacks. Try a piece of fruit, a handful of unsalted nuts, a fruit salad or a fruit smoothie.
  6. Make sure you eat enough protein. You can get protein from many different sources, such as meat, poultry, fish, nuts, cheese, beans and pulses. 
  7. Make sure you eat enough starchy foods, such as rice, pasta, potatoes and bread.
  8. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Try not to have fizzy or sugary drinks. 

To learn more about healthy eating, meal planning and recipes, visit the Food section of the easyhealth website

If you love Jewish cooking, but worry about the calories, check out our Healthier versions of traditional Jewish recipes

For advice on staying a healthy weight, check out the Managing weight with a learning disability section of the NHS Choices website

Staying healthy

Keeping yourself fit and healthy is important for your overall wellbeing. Keep as active as you can. It will make you feel better and happier.

You don't need to join a fancy gym or take up a sport to stay healthy. You can keep fit by;

  • gardening;
  • walking;
  • cycling;
  • dancing;
  • yoga;
  • swimming; or 
  • doing the housework. 

You can exercise at home, at the gym or by going to an exercise class. Many community centres offer different types of gentle exercise, such as tai chi or yoga. Have a look at our Directory of community and cultural centres to find a centre near you.

You can exercise on your own or with friends. Try to make it fun. If you are doing something you enjoy, you'll be more likely to continue doing it.

The easyhealth website is a great resource for people with learning disabilities to find out all about staying healthy. It has lots of information on:

  • eating well:
  • getting enough exercise;
  • staying healthy; and 
  • taking good care of yourself.

Visit the easyhealth website to find out more

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