Down syndrome (DS), also called Trisomy 21, is a condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the way a child develops, both mentally and physically. It affects about 1 in every 800 babies born in the United States.
The physical features and medical problems associated with Down syndrome can vary widely from child to child. While some kids with DS need a lot of medical attention, others lead healthy lives.
Though Down syndrome can't be prevented, it can be detected before a child is born. The health problems that may go along with DS can be treated, and many resources are available to help kids and their families who are living with the condition.
Normally, at the time of conception, a baby inherits genetic information from its parents in the form of 46 chromosomes: 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. In most cases of Down syndrome, a child gets an extra chromosome 21 — for a total of 47 chromosomes instead of 46. It's this extra genetic material that causes the physical features and developmental delays associated with DS.
Although no one knows for sure why DS occurs and there's no way to prevent the chromosomal error that causes it, scientists do know that women age 35 and older have a significantly higher risk of having a child with the condition. At age 30, for example, a woman has about a 1 in 1,000 chance of conceiving a child with DS. Those odds increase to about 1 in 400 by age 35. By 40 the risk rises to about 1 in 100.
The symptoms of Down syndrome will vary from individual to individual. In addition, people with Down syndrome will experience different problems at various times during the course of their lives. The following are some common physical, developmental, and intellectual symptoms of DS:
Poor or decreased muscle tone
Excess skin at the back of the neck/ short neck
Small ears, head, and mouth
Upwards slanting eyes
Relatively short, wide hands with short fingers
Short attention span
Delayed language and speech development
Treatments & Therapies
Treatments and therapies are based on the individual’s cognitive and physical needs, as well as their strengths, thus there is no single treatment for Down syndrome. Early intervention has been proven to greatly benefit outcomes for children with Down syndrome, thus starting therapy at a young age creates optimal opportunities for their development. Aside from early intervention, there are other treatment therapies such as physical therapy, speech-language therapy, and occupational, emotional, and behavioral therapies. Individuals with Down syndrome may also require the use of assistive devices such as a specific type of equipment, tool, or technology that can enhance their learning or make day-to-day tasks easier to complete. Some examples of assistive devices are amplification devices for individuals who may have hearing problems, touch screen computers, or special pencils to make writing easier.