Down Syndrome

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
AFABC Special Needs Database

Definition
Children with Down Syndrome are born with an extra copy of chromosome 21 (thus the medical term: "Trisomy 21"). It is a chromosomal anomaly, or mix-up, in the genetic blue-print that occurs at conception.

Causes
Approximately 1 in 700 live births is a child with Down Syndrome in Canada. It is important to know that nothing the mother does during her pregnancy could cause this to happen. The chance of having a baby with Down syndrome increases significantly with age of the mother.

Characteristics
Children have some physical, intellectual, and emotional developmental delays. Retardation of normal growth and development is typica,l and most affected children never reach average adult height.

Physical characteristics are well recognized. The head may be smaller than normal and abnormally shaped. Prominent facial features include a flattened nose, protruding tongue, and upward slanting eyes. The inner corner of the eyes may have a rounded fold of skin, rather than coming to a point. The hands are short and broad with short fingers and often have a single crease in the palm.

For babies with Down Syndrome, the characteristics may include chubby cheeks, large, round eyes, larger tongue, smaller limbs and smaller body frame.

Treatment
There is no specific treatment for Down Syndrome. Special education and training is offered in most communities for mentally handicapped children. Specific heart defects may require surgical correction. The health care provider should be consulted to evaluate the need for special education training and the need for follow-up, if physical problems varie.

Complications
Children with Down Syndrome may also have other medical conditions:

  • Congenital malformations of the heart (life-threatening). The extent of heart problems varies greatly.
  • Hypothyroidism (a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone)
  • Hearing loss (which is most often due to frequent ear infections)
  • Vision problems
  • Gastrointestinal abnormalities such as esophageal atresia (obstruction of the esophagus) and duodenal atresia (obstruction of the duodenum)
  • Polydactyly
  • Failure to thrive

No individual with Down Syndrome will have all the health complications. However, every child needs good preventive medical care.


This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.