Down Syndrome


World Down Syndrome Day: What an Extra Chromosome Means

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As a coach with Special Olympics, I’m lucky to know a number of kids (and a few adults from other times in my life) who live with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome [DS] is a genetic condition that results in an extra copy of chromosome 21—for this reason, Dodifferent coloured chromosomeswn Syndrome is sometimes referred to as Trisomy 21—three chromosomes instead of just 2.
In the UK, 1 in 1000 people will be born with Down syndrome. [1] Down syndrome is not a disease, and while it can affect both the body and the brain (primarily the thought processes associated with learning). In the past, people with Down Syndrome did not have as long life expectancies as they do now, but Down Syndrome UK reports that most people with Down Syndrome live to their 50s or 60s, and some even into their 70s. [1]
Each person with Down Syndrome is different, and there is no “personality type” that people with DS automatically have—while people often think people with DS are always happy or smiling, of course this is not always the case! Think of the people around you who do not have DS—the majority of them are probably happy a lot of the time too, aren’t they? People with DS can have decreased intelligence in some cases, but all people with Down Syndrome have strengths that simply need to be brought out—sometimes, people with DS are of average (or above average!) intelligence, which is why it is always important to not make assumptions. People with DS have a characteristic face shape that is round, with somewhat flat facial features and almond-shaped eyes, and are often of short stature and carry more body weight.
People with DS often have abnormally flexible joints and low muscle tone; some people with DS have what is known as “atlanto-axial [joint]l instability” which simply means a joint in his or her neck is unstable because of a loose ligament. In some cases, this may limit some activities a person with DS is able to do, such as gymnastics, diving, stretching, or climbing. For the most part, people with DS or their caregivers will be aware of atlanto-axial instability and what activities may pose more risk for them. Other problems that can result form Down Syndrome include heart defects, hearing loss, and speech problems (once again, likely attributed to muscle tone issues). People with DS may require different surgeries or therapies (such as speech, occupational or physical therapy). Because of other medical issues, a medical ID bracelet or necklace to identify these concerns, such as heart or hearing problems, should be considered..
To learn more about Down Syndrome, check out our interviews on the My Identity Doctor US blog from last year, with Holli and her mom, Brenda, about life with Down Syndrome.
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