WHAT IS DOWN SYNDROME?
Down Syndrome (DS) is a genetic condition in which a child is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. Chromosomes are DNA molecules that contain genes. These genes relay information that determine your traits (your personal characteristics that have been passed down from your parents). The presence of an extra chromosome can result in mental, physical, and developmental delays. Other names for Down Syndrome are DNS or Trisomy 21.
Working with a speech therapist can help DS children accelerate development, and social workers can also provide resources and support. For more information, contact The Warren Center to learn more about our services.
CHARACTERISTICS, CAUSES & COMMONALITY
What are the Physical Characteristics of Down Syndrome?
Physical characteristics and severity of Down syndrome can vary. In general, however, the facial features of children with Down syndrome tend to include a flattened facial profile, upward slanting eyes, small ears, and a protruding tongue.
What Causes Down Syndrome?
An extra copy of chromosome 21 causes Down syndrome. A fetus inherits 46 chromosomes from parents at the time of conception (23 chromosomes pass along from the mother and 23 chromosomes come from the father to create 46 total). Fetuses with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, resulting in 47 chromosomes total. This excess genetic material causes the physical and mental characteristics of Down syndrome.
Although there is currently no known way to prevent the chromosomal duplication that causes Down syndrome, geneticists have found that women over 35 years old (known as advanced material age) have a higher chance of conceiving to a child with Down syndrome. Specifically, women over 35 have a 1 in 400 chance of conceiving a child with the disorder, women over 40 have a 1 in 100 chance of conceiving a child with the condition, and so on. However, due to higher fertility rates in younger women, 80-percent of children with Down syndrome are born to women under the age of 35. In other words, while material age can increase the odds of conceiving a child with Down syndrome, it is more than possible for a young woman to give birth to a child with Down syndrome.
How Common is Down Syndrome?
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, the condition occurs one in every 7,000 births. It is the most common chromosomal condition.
AFFECTING DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONES
How Does Down Syndrome Affect Developmental Milestones?
Down syndrome produces physical characteristics that can cause developmental delays. In addition to the recognizable facial features, one of the main bodily characteristics of Down syndrome is hypotonia (low muscle tone). This can make a child with Down syndrome seem “floppy,” grow at a slower pace, and eventually appear smaller than their peers.
Hypotonia can improve over time, but it does mean that DS children develop gross motor skills more slowly and achieve developmental milestones like crawling, sitting up, or walking much later than their peers. Low muscle tone can also affect fine motor skills of the extremities like the lips, tongue, and fingers. This means that infants with Down syndrome can have problems with sucking or feeding. Toddlers may demonstrate speech delays or self-help delays (such as trouble feeding or dressing themselves as well as toileting challenges).
Because most children born with DS have mild to moderate intellectual impairment, the disorder can also cause cognitive delays. Since the intellectual impairment can vary quite widely, however, it is important to expose Down syndrome children to as many learning opportunities as possible. Only then can professionals assess their capabilities and assist them in reaching as many milestones as possible.
What Treatments are Available to Children with Down Syndrome?
Although Down syndrome has no “cure,” many DS children reach developmental milestones with assistance and go on to live healthy lives. Physicians recommend enrolling these children into early childhood intervention (ECI) services as quickly as possible to help reach feeding and self-help milestones. Professionals like occupational therapists (OT) and physical therapists (PT) can help Down syndrome children develop gross motor and fine motor skills. Group therapy programs provide social skills, meaningful inclusion, and help build self-esteem. Working with a speech therapist can help DS children accelerate development, and social workers can also provide resources and support. For more information, contact The Warren Center to learn more about our services.