The majority of literature about choice-making competence ignores the skills and needs of people with learning difficulties. The limited research that does exist tends to look at the competence of those with mild to moderate learning disabilities. In addition, competence is researched through vignettes rather than in real life choice-making situations.

There are two contrasting arguments for why choice-making is challenging for individuals with learning disabilities. Firstly, some researchers believe that people with learning disabilities can make choices with the right level of support, however the actions of others prevent this happening. Secondly, some researchers believe that people with learning disabilities cannot make choices or struggle to make choices due to their impairment. However, a combination of the two provides a more plausible argument.

An individual's ability to make choices can also be influenced by their motivation. They may have the ability to make choices, but choose not to. This lack of motivation may have contributed to a sense of learned helplessness: the individual may have experienced failure in making choices in the past which had affected their confidence, may not be used to being asked their opinion or choices may not have been honoured which has caused the individual to feel that they have no control over their life.

Although people with learning disabilities may have some difficulties making choices, with teaching and increased opportunities to practice making choices these skills can develop. Researchers also argue that staff and caregivers cannot assume that these skills will develop naturally, but instead require the same urgency in teaching as other skills.


In my doctoral study, the young people were able to make meaningful choices from the start of the research process: no initial teaching was required. I knew that their choices were meaningful as they were consistent over a period; were often confirmed by a parent or member of staff and were consistent with how the young people chose to spend their time.