What Is Down Syndrome?
In every cell in the human body, there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
Fact: In December 2011, the General Assembly declared 21st March as World Down Syndrome Day in order to raise public awareness of Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is not an illness. The term describes the features resulting from this change. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are:
- Low muscle tone
- Small stature
- An upward slant to the eyes
- A single deep crease across the centre of the palm.
What Causes Down Syndrome?
Regardless of the type of Down syndrome a person may have, all people with Down syndrome have an extra, critical portion of chromosome 21 present in all or some of their cells. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
The cause of the extra full or partial chromosome is still unknown. Maternal age is the only factor that has been linked to an increased chance of having a baby with Down syndrome resulting from nondisjunction or mosaicism. However, due to higher birth rates in younger women, 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age.
Although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.
There is no definitive scientific research that indicates that Down syndrome is caused by environmental factors or the parents’ activities before or during pregnancy. The additional partial or full copy of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome can originate from either the father or the mother. Approximately 5% of the cases have been traced to the father.
Myths & Misconceptions About Down Syndrome:
Only older parents have children with Down syndrome
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research, about 80% of children are born to women younger than 35. The CDC research shows that the chances of having a baby with Down syndrome do increase with age. However, younger women have more babies, so more children with Down syndrome are also born to younger mothers.
A child with Down syndrome negatively impacts their siblings
Studies do not support that a child with Down syndrome will have a negative impact on siblings. In fact, some mental health professionals point to the advantages of such a child cared for within the family circle. They have documented siblings who have increased tolerance, compassion and awareness, in contrast to all typical siblings.
People who have Down syndrome die young
The average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome is nearly 60 years old. Some people with Down syndrome have also lived into their 80s. Even though people with this condition might not live as long as their counterparts, they certainly don’t die young.
People with Down syndrome all look alike
Many but not all people with Down syndrome share common features. For example, many but not everyone with Down syndrome has almond-shaped eyes and short stature. Like many of us, people who suffer from this condition look more like their families than each other.
People with Down syndrome can’t read or write
The majority of children with Down syndrome can learn to read and write. Research shows that teaching reading to children with disabilities, including those with Down syndrome. This is the most effective when teachers are well trained, have high expectations of their students, and evaluate students’ well. More research is needed to determine how to most effectively teach children with Down syndrome to read and write.
People with Down syndrome suffer from multiple illnesses and have a short-life span.
While yes, it’s true that Down syndrome is associated with a number of health complications. Some of which are more dangerous than others, adequate healthcare can go a long way.
Almost half of the babies born with Down syndrome have some type of heart defect. So, doctors usually screen every baby and take all necessary measures. Alzheimer’s is the second most prevalent disease among people living with Down syndrome.
As a society, we have come a long way from the time when children with Down syndrome were abandoned by their families. But we should keep on fighting the good fight by initiating conversations, correcting misconceptions and fostering more empathy and kindness.