What is Down syndrome?
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. It occurs in approximately one in every 800 live births. Individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome that affect some or all cells. It is the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder. Down syndrome is not related to race, nationality, religion or socioeconomic status. The most important fact to know about individuals with Down syndrome is that they are more like others than they are different.
How is Down syndrome diagnosed?
Down syndrome is usually identified at birth or shortly thereafter. Initially the diagnosis is based on physical characteristics that are commonly seen in babies with Down syndrome. These include low muscle tone, a single crease across the palm of the hand, a slightly flattened facial profile and an upward slant to the eyes. The diagnosis must be confirmed by a chromosome study known as a karyotype.
Is there a prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome?
Two types of procedures are available to pregnant women: screening tests and diagnostic tests. The screening tests estimate the risk of the baby having Down syndrome. Diagnostic tests tell whether or not the baby actually has Down syndrome.
- A common screening test is “The Triple Screen.” This is a combination of three tests that measure quantities of various substances in the blood. These tests are usually done between 15 and 20 weeks of gestation.
- In 2011, the “MaterniT21″ screening test was introduced in the Central Texas market, manufactured by Sequenom. Other biomedical companies, such as Ariosa and Verinata, may soon market screening tests in Central Texas as well. These new screening tests sample for fetal DNA in the mother’s blood and are more accurate than the older “Triple Screen” test. They are still considered screening tests, however, and do not provide certainty about whether the fetus actually has Down syndrome.
- Sonograms (ultrasounds) are usually performed in conjunction with other screenings. These can show some physical traits that are helpful in calculating the risk of Down syndrome.
- Screening tests do not accurately confirm the diagnosis of Down syndrome. In fact, false positives and false negatives can occur.
Three diagnostic tests are currently available:
- Amniocentesis which is performed between 12 and 20 weeks gestation.
- Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) which is conducted between 8 and 12 weeks gestation.
- Percutaneous Umbilical Blood Sampling (PUBS) which is performed after 20 weeks gestation.
What causes Down syndrome?
Down syndrome is usually caused by an error in cell division called non-disjunction. It is not known why this occurs. However, it is known that the error occurs at conception and is not related to anything the mother did during pregnancy. Statistically the incidence of Down syndrome increases with advancing maternal age. However, 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age.
My baby has just been diagnosed with Down syndrome; What do I do now?
DSACT has a New Parent Program where a trained volunteer First Responder who is already the parent of a child with Down syndrome will call you back to set up a time to visit you with a New Parent Packet. DSACT is here to support you, share resources, provide you with information and discuss the joys as well as the challenges you may face. Call DSACT at 512-323-0808 or see our New Parent Program for more details.
DSACT offers year-round programs for children with Down syndrome and their families. Programs include social and recreational classes such as sign language, swimming, cooking, yoga and martial arts. Young adults may attend a specialized class at UT. Social groups for children ages 0-5, 6–12 and teenagers meet monthly. For more information on classes and groups click here. A social group for adults also meets; for more information, contact our office.
The Learning Program offers a research-based curriculum improving early literacy and math skills for students with Down syndrome ages 2-11. Parents attend class simultaneously learning best practices to teach their child at home. For more information on the Learning Program contact our office.
How does Down syndrome affect learning and development?
It is important to remember that while children and adults with Down syndrome experience developmental delays, they also have many talents and gifts and should be given the opportunity and encouragement to develop them.
Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate impairments but it is important to note that they are more like other children than they are different. Early Intervention services should be provided shortly after birth. These services should include physical, speech and developmental therapies. Most children attend their neighborhood schools, some in regular classes and others in special education classes. Some children have more significant needs and require a more specialized program. Some high school graduates with Down syndrome participate in post-secondary education. Many adults with Down syndrome are capable of working in the community, but some require a more structured environment.
Are there health issues with Down syndrome?
Many children with Down syndrome have health complications beyond the usual childhood illnesses. Approximately 40% of the children have congenital heart defects. It is very important that an echocardiogram be performed on all newborns with Down syndrome in order to identify any serious cardiac problems that might be present. Some of the heart conditions require surgery while others only require careful monitoring. Children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of infection, respiratory, vision and hearing problems as well as thyroid and other medical conditions. However, with appropriate medical care most children and adults with Down syndrome can lead healthy lives. The average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 55 years, with many living into their sixties and seventies. A child’s pediatrician should be aware of “Health Care Guidelines for Individuals with Down Syndrome“.