Loss and profound learning disabilities: the significance of early separation responses

Hannah Young

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    330 Downloads (Pure)


    Purpose: Learning disabilities may complicate the experience of bereavement and loss, in those with communicative impairments compounded by complex healthcare needs and sensori-motor limitations. Whilst theorists have argued that the cognitive difficulties of people with profound learning disabilities impede mourning reactions, none have attempted to make sense of the responses they do exhibit.

    Design/methodology/approach: A select review considers the neurophysiology underlying attachment bonds, complications in attachment formation and affect regulation in people with LD, and separation responses of people with profound learning disabilities.

    Findings: The current paper demonstrates that by recognising the affective nature of separation distress, an understanding beyond a cognitive conceptualisation is possible.

    Research limitations/implications: It is worth questioning whether people with profound learning disabilities are incapable of any meaningful form of person permanence. A critical review could deal with this comparatively by drawing on research of person and object permanence in typically developing children.

    Practical implications: Of specific interest, the bio-behavioural regulators of relationships may help us to appreciate the importance of routine physical health and social care for emotional wellbeing in this group.

    Originality/value: It is argued that by appreciating the basic emotional and regulatory functions of relationships, we can achieve a greater insight into the loss experiences of people with profound learning disabilities that will offer therapeutic direction.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)315-323
    Number of pages9
    JournalAdvances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities
    Issue number6
    Early online date3 Nov 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • attachment
    • Separation
    • profound learning disabilities
    • profound intellectual disabililties
    • loss
    • care
    • Neurophysiology


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