You have probably seen people who have Down syndrome. They have certain physical features, such as a flatter face, upward slanting eyes, and a somewhat larger tongue. They may have medical problems, too, such as heart defects. And they usually have some mental retardation, which means they may have trouble learning. But despite their challenges, kids with Down syndrome can go to regular schools, make friends, enjoy life, and get jobs when they're older.
To understand why Down syndrome happens, you need to understand a little about chromosomes. What's a chromosome? They are thread-like structures within each cell and are made up of genes. Genes provide the information that determines everything about people, from hair color to whether they are girls or boys.
Most people have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. But a baby with Down syndrome has an extra chromosome (47 instead of 46) or one chromosome has an extra part. This extra genetic material causes problems with the way their bodies develop.
Health Problems Are Common Babies with Down syndrome tend to develop more slowly than other babies do. They may start walking later than other babies. About half are born with heart defects, which means there is something different with the way their hearts developed. Usually, these problems can be corrected by surgery.
Some babies also may have problems in their stomachs or a blockage in their intestines that prevents them from digesting food properly. Kids with Down syndrome are more likely to get infections that affect their lungs and breathing. When they do get infections, they often last longer. They may have eye or ear problems or digestion problems like constipation. Some may develop leukemia, a type of cancer. Each person with Down syndrome is different and may have one, several, or all of these problems.
We've mentioned a little about the features people with Down syndrome often have. In addition to the eyes and face, they may have small or misshapen ears, a large space between the big toe and the second toe, and a crease that goes across the palms of their hands. It's important to note, though, that not all people with Down syndrome look alike or have all these features.
Do a Lot of People Have Down Syndrome? About one out of every 800 babies born has Down syndrome, no matter what race or nationality the parents are. It is not contagious, so you can't catch it from someone else. You are born with it. No one gets Down syndrome later in life.
Now you know that Down syndrome is caused by a problem with a chromosome. You might already know that we get our chromosomes from our mother and father. Remember the 23 pairs of chromosomes - half are from your mom and half are from your dad.
But doctors aren't sure why this chromosome problem happens to some babies. It's nothing the mom or dad did before the child was born. Anyone can have a baby with Down syndrome. But the older the mother, the greater the risk.
Is There a Cure? At one time, most kids with Down syndrome did not live past childhood. Many would often become sick from infections. Others would die from their heart problems or other problems they had at birth. Today, most of these health problems can be treated and most kids who have it will grow into adulthood.
Medicines can help with infections and surgery can correct heart, stomach, and intestinal problems. If the person gets leukemia, there are medical treatments that can be very successful. Someone with Down syndrome has a good chance of living to be 50 years old or more.
But there is no cure for Down syndrome. It is something a person will have all of his or her life. But scientists continue to do research in the hope of finding ways to prevent Down syndrome or at least improve the health and lives of people who have it.
What's Life Like for Kids With Down Syndrome? Many kids with Down syndrome go to regular schools and may attend regular classes. Some need special classes to help them in areas where they have more trouble learning. Their parents work with teachers and others to come up with a plan for the best way for each child to learn. Kids with Down syndrome like their playtime, too. They play sports and participate in activities, such as music lessons or dance classes.
Because they look different, some kids may tease or bully kids who have Down syndrome. But these kids have feelings just like anybody else. When they get teased, it hurts their feelings. They want to be accepted and have friends. If you know someone with Down syndrome, you can be a big help by not teasing him or her. Instead, offer a helping hand and a friendly word of encouragement.
You might wonder what kids with Down syndrome do after they graduate from high school. They often go to work. You may have seen a person with Down syndrome on the job - maybe helping in an office, a grocery store, or restaurant. In fact, they are known for their enthusiasm, reliability, and dedication. For all their hard work, they can feel a sense of accomplishment - and enjoy spending their paychecks!