Down syndrome is a genetic anomaly that a child can be born with. Most people are born with 46 chromosomes. Children with Down’s syndrome have an extra chromosome with the most common being an extra 21st chromosome. The condition is called Trisomy 21. When the extra chromosome is present it can cause many different birth defects. All Down’s syndrome children are mentally challenged and can have developmental delays. These issues can range from mild to severe in nature.
There are other characteristics that many Down syndrome children have in common. These include a more rounded head that may be flattened in the back, the eyes may be rounded on the inner canthus instead of coming to a point, the nose is flattened, the ears are smaller and lower set than normal, the eyes tend to slant upward, there is excess skin at the nape of the neck, the hands are wide with short stubby fingers, and they frequently have decreased muscle tone at birth.
These children usually are delayed in their development their entire lives. Most will never reach the average height of normal adults. These children have slower than normal emotional and mental development. Some of the problems that are seen with Downs children include decreased attention spans and have poor impulse control. They also learn at a much slower pace and frequently show poor judgment.
There are certain medical conditions that are common in Down’s syndrome babies and children. Some of these conditions include atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect which are birth defects that involve the heart. Other problems include visual problems and premature cataracts, hearing problems that can be caused by chronic ear infections, underactive thyroid gland which can cause weight gain and problems with blockages in the gastrointestinal tract such as duodenal atresia. These children frequently have problems with their teeth. They also have sleep apnea, issues with constipation and are at increased risk of dislocating a hip.
There is no cure for Downs syndrome. There are certain conditions that will require surgery at birth or at a young age including the two heart defects listed above. The gastrointestinal blockages will require surgery when they occur. Downs syndrome children have poor muscle tone and control. They will need physical and occupational therapy in order to give them the optimum muscle tone and use of their muscles. Infants will need additional assistance feeding due to poor control of their tongue and mouth muscles. These children will be developmentally delayed so each child will be different as to how quickly they can master a task or milestone. These children are frequently overweight so special diets may be needed in order to keep their weight within normal limits. Extra exercise programs may be needed to keep their weight within normal limits as well.
So who is at risk of having a Down’s syndrome baby? Women over the age of 35 are at a much higher risk of having a child with birth defects or Downs syndrome. Couples who have already had a Downs syndrome child have a higher risk of having another child with this disorder. There is genetic testing that can be done on couples to see if they are at risk of having a child with Downs prior to pregnancy. Once pregnancy has taken place, an amniocentesis or chorionic villi sampling can be performed and chromosomal studies can be done to determine if the child has Downs syndrome or other congenital disorders prior to birth.
Down’s children in the past had limited life spans due to the heart conditions and other health problems that are contributed to Downs syndrome. However Downs syndrome children are now living much longer lives due to the innovations that have been made in heart surgeries and in other procedures that these children need. These children will need supervision for the remainder of their lives however many of them can function on some level and even work and can live in group homes with others away from their family once they have become an adult.