You may be familiar with Down syndrome (DS), but do you know what causes it and what its characteristics are?
DS begins during conception, when a baby’s 23 chromosomes are duplicated and a third copy of chromosome 21 is produced (thus the scientific name for Down syndrome: Trisomy 21). This extra copy results in many physical and developmental effects. But, it’s important to note that each child experiences DS differently.
Some of the effects of DS are physical, such as decreased muscle tone, a flattened face and upward slanting eyes. About half of those with DS experience congenital heart disease, and may have problems hearing or seeing. Other medical issues that could develop include pulmonary hypertension, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal problems, seizures, and others. For parents of children with DS, a close partnership with a pediatrician who is knowledgable in DS is key.
Developmentally, children with DS may have short attention spans, act impulsively, learn more slowly, and have delays in language and speech development. But most children will be able to communicate effectively—it just takes a little longer.
Is Down syndrome more common today?
Because DS occurs more commonly when a woman has a child later in life AND because many people today are waiting to have a child, DS is likely to become more and more common.
Mom’s age is 35: 1 in 350 children affected
Mom’s age is 40: 1 in 100 children affected
Mom’s age is 45: 1 in 30 children affected
But birth rates are, of course, still higher in younger women, so about 80% of Down syndrome cases occur in women who are younger than 35. And it’s not all about the moms! The extra chromosome 21 can come from either parent—about 5% of have been traced to the father.
Where to Go from Here
The happiest news of all—DS used to mean a limited life expectancy (just 9 years on average in 1910), but thanks to many advances, today as many as 80% of those with Down syndrome live into their 60s.
Now it’s time to delve into our articles about the ways that you, as a parent or caregiver, can support children with Down syndrome with their language, motor, cognitive and social emotional development.