Down Syndrome

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

People with down syndrome have an extra chromosome in some or all of their body's cells. This additional genetic material changes the finely tuned balance of the body and results in characteristic physical and intellectual features, usually including slanting eyes, a flat face, a large tongue, and broad hands with little fingers that curve inwards.

There is a wide range of mental retardation and developmental delay noted among children with down syndrome. Some babies are born with heart defects. Some children have associated illnesses such as epilepsy, hypothyroidism or celiac disease, and others don't.

There are three different types of down syndrome. The most common form of down syndrome is called Trisomy 21. This type usually occurs to mothers that are over the age of 35 when giving birth. The reason down syndrome births increase as a woman gets older, is that her eggs she was born with are older and there is more chance of error while chromosomes are combining. The ratio of down syndrome births in women who are age 20 is one in 2000, in women who are age 35 is one in 380 births, in women who are age 40, it is one in 100 births, and in women who are age 45 it is one in 30 births.

With today's early therapeutic intervention, children with down syndrome are believed to be capable of much more than they once were. Children with down syndrome can develop and learn throughout their life. They will always be able to go forward in learning, just at a slower pace. Learning does not stop in adulthood as some people have been led to believe. As long as they have an opportunity to learn, they will learn but as stated above, at a slower rate.

There is no cure, but treatment of health problems and support for learning difficulties allows many to live a relatively normal and semi-independent life. Others have to be looked after all of the time.

Physiotherapy, speech therapy, and special educational programs have a great role to play - and specific medical conditions associated with down syndrome are treated as appropriate. Nowadays, many live well into adult years with the average life expectancy being around 60 years.

A person with down syndrome, and his / her family, needs to be supported by a team of professionals throughout their life. This team may include the family GP, pediatricians, health visitors, occupational and speech therapists and physiotherapists. There are also numerous social groups and support networks for people who have down syndrome and their families.

Most children with down syndrome attend mainstream schools, though there are various schooling facilities for children with additional needs or more serious mental or physical disabilities.

Raising a child with down syndrome is a unique and special experience. It may be difficult at times, but the rewards and joy you will receive will be enormous. After all, a child is a child and raising a child is a joyous experience.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,