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A closer look at Down Syndrome

More... National Down Syndrome Society

Children with Down syndrome have a complicated condition, yet they can be loving participants in a family.

Children with Down syndrome usually can be recognized by sight: The eyes slope up at the outside corners, facial features are small, ears are lower than expected, and the tongue tends to be thick and sometimes sticks out. As many as 250,000 Americans have the condition, and it affects at least one out of every 800 births.

Down syndrome is named after the English doctor John Langdon Down who described it in 1866. Nearly 100 years later, researchers discovered that the condition is due to a genetic error that puts an extra chromosome in the nucleus of cells. Each individual inherits 23 chromosomes from each parent, for a total of 46. For some reason still not completely understood, some individuals wind up with 47. The excess genes on this extra chromosome cause a number of possible irregularities in the formation and functioning of the body.

Among the irregularities are a tendency to have heart disorders, thyroid imbalance, and neurological disabilities such as intellectual disability, weak muscles, spinal problems, and seizures. Also noted as possible problems are a slightly higher likelihood of an incomplete intestine and acute leukemia, as well as being more susceptible to respiratory and ear infections. More recently, researchers have associated Down syndrome with the possibility of greater risk for Alzheimer's disease during the middle years. With this complicated array of possible problems, it is easy to see how people with Down syndrome often do not live past middle age.

While the child with Down syndrome faces many challenges, parents can gain knowledge and support to raise a Down syndrome child. The National Down Syndrome Society is a good place to start. The Society is at 666 Broadway, New York, NY 10012. Phone 1-800-221-4602 or (212) 460-9330.

Parents must ensure that their Down syndrome child is under the care of a physician. A number of the problems associated with the condition may be controlled or alleviated through medication. Seizures and thyroid problems, for example, are often treated successfully with drugs.

In some cases, occupational or physical therapy can help children with poor muscle tone, especially if the therapy is started when the baby is only weeks old. These exercises of gross motor skills can improve walking, sitting, standing, turning, and climbing stairs. Where the ligaments at the lower spine are too relaxed, a child could be at risk of injury due to spinal cord compression. Parents of Down syndrome children might notice if their child has neck pain, limited movement of the neck, change in walking pattern, and sudden weakness of the arms and legs. Children may not always have these symptoms, in which case parents might want to limit activities such as gymnastics, trampoline, diving, and high-impact sports.

Children with Down syndrome require a positive and total commitment to make the best of their abilities. A stimulating and challenging atmosphere works best. Education and support are keys to success, along with a protective environment, including protection against exploitation and sexual abuse. Parents of a Down syndrome child must have reasonable expectations and be willing to celebrate the smallest achievement.

If you are a Texas resident and are not approved as a foster or adoptive family, please fill out our Adoption and Foster Care Interest form in the Get Started section.

If you have questions or want to inquire about a specific child or sibling group, contact the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE) or call 1-800-233-3405.

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