What is Down Syndrome?
For centuries, people with Down syndrome have been alluded to in art, literature, and science. It wasn't until the late 19th century, however, that John Langdon Down, an English physician, published an accurate description of a person with Down syndrome. It was this scholarly work, published in 1866, which earned Down the recognition as the "father" of the syndrome. Although others had previously recognized the characteristics of the syndrome, it was Down who described the condition as a distinct and separate entity.
Throughout the 20th century, advances in medicine and science enabled researchers to investigate the characteristics of people with Down syndrome. In 1959, the French physician, Jerome Lejeune, identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal anomaly when he observed 47 chromosomes present in each cell of individuals with Down syndrome instead of the usual 46. It was later determined that an extra partial or complete 21st chromosome results in the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
Down syndrome occurs in one out of every 691 live births, and more than 400,000 people in the U.S. have this genetic condition. One of the most frequently occurring chromosomal abnormalities, Down syndrome affects people of all ages, races, and economic levels. Today, individuals with Down syndrome are active participants in the educational, vocational, social, and recreational aspects of our communities. In fact, there are more opportunities than ever before for individuals with Down syndrome to develop their abilities, discover their talents, and realize their dreams. For example, more teens and adults with Down syndrome each year are graduating from high school, going to college, finding employment, and living independently.
The opportunities currently available to individuals with Down syndrome have never been greater. However, it is only through the collective efforts of parents, professionals, and concerned citizens that acceptance is becoming even more widespread.
Down syndrome Myths and Truths
Myth: Down syndrome is a rare genetic disorder.
Truth: Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic condition. One in every 691 live births is a child with Down syndrome, representing approximately 5,000 births per year in the United States alone. Today, more than 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome.
Myth: People with Down syndrome have a short life span.
Truth: Life expectancy for individuals with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent years, with the average life expectancy approaching that of peers without Down syndrome.
Myth: Most children with Down syndrome are born to older parents.
Truth: Most children with Down syndrome are born to women younger than 35-years-old simply because younger women have more children. The average age to give birth to a child with Down syndrome is 28. However, the incidence of births of children with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother.
Myth: People with Down syndrome are severely disabled.
Truth: Most people with Down syndrome have IQs that fall in the mild to moderate range of intellectual disability. Children with Down syndrome fully participate in public and private educational programs. Educators and researchers are still discovering the full educational potential of people with Down syndrome.
Myth: Most people with Down syndrome are institutionalized.
Truth: Today people with Down syndrome live at home with their families and are active participants in the educational, vocational, social, and recreational activities of the community. They are integrated into the regular education system and take part in sports, camping, music, art programs and all the other activities of their communities. People with Down syndrome are valued members of their families and their communities, contributing to society in a variety of ways.
Myth: Parents will not find community support in bringing up their child with Down syndrome.
Truth: In almost every community of the United States there are parent support groups and other community organizations directly involved in providing services to families of individuals with Down syndrome.
Myth: Children with Down syndrome must be placed in segregated special education programs.
Truth: Children with Down syndrome have been included in regular academic classrooms in schools across the country. In some instances, they are integrated into specific courses, while in other situations students are fully included in the regular classroom for all subjects. The current trend in education is for full inclusion in the social and educational life of the community. Increasingly, individuals with Down syndrome graduate from high school with regular diplomas, participate in post-secondary academic and college experiences, and, in some cases, receive college degrees.
Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are unemployable.
Truth: Businesses are seeking adults with Down syndrome for a variety of positions. They are being employed in small- and medium-sized offices: by banks, corporations, nursing homes, hotels, and restaurants. They work in the music and entertainment industry, in clerical positions, childcare, the sports field, and in the computer industry. People with Down syndrome bring to their jobs enthusiasm, reliability, and dedication.
Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy.
Truth: People with Down syndrome have feelings just like everyone else in the population. They experience the full range of emotions. They respond to positive expressions of friendship and they are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior.
Myth: Adults with Down syndrome are unable to form close interpersonal relationships leading to marriage.
Truth: People with Down syndrome date, socialize, form ongoing relationships, and marry.
Myth: Down syndrome can never be cured.
Truth: Research on Down syndrome is making great strides in identifying the genes on chromosome 21 that cause the characteristics of Down syndrome. Scientists now feel strongly that it will be possible to improve, correct, or prevent many of the problems associated with Down syndrome in the future.