Myths & Misconceptions - Answer to the Most Common Questions

What is Down’s Syndrome?
Down’s Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder which causes delays in physical and intellectual development. In 1866, a physician and geneticist named John Langdon Down wrote extensively on this disorder, describing its characteristics, Hence the name "Down’s Syndrome."

What are the chances of a child being born with Down’s Syndrome?
Of all the genetic disorders with chromosome abnormalities, Down’s Syndrome has the highest rateof occurrence.  Some 7,000 children were born with DS in the United States last year alone.
Worldwide, approximately one out of 800 children is born with this condition.

What mental and physical characteristics are produced by Down’s Syndrome?
A child born with this condition will have some form of retardation, and usually other medical problems as well. More than one-third of these children develop heart disease. Many of these children are at high risk of contracting leukemia. Children with Dow’s Syndrome age very rapidly; when they reach middle age many of them develop Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, most people who have Down’s Syndrome survive to age 55 and beyond.

Are most Down’s Syndrome babies born when the mothers are over forty?
Although the risk of having a baby with DS increases significantly after age 35, the majority of Kown’s Syndrome children today were born when their mothers were in their late twenties.

What are the chances of giving birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome?
For women age 35-40, the overall risk of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome increases to 1 in 350. At 40, the risk increases to 1 in 100. At age 45, the risk increases to approximately 1 in 30.

Why is DS sometimes referred to as "mongolism"?
Professor Down, being a Darwinist, attempted to find a relationship between race and mental retardation. He theorized that, since there seemed to be a resemblance to the Mongolian people, those with Down’s Syndrome must surely be of the Mongols. Today everyone agrees that this term is obsolete and should be discarded. Down’s Syndrome has no relationship to race, nationality, religion, or socio-economic status.

Is DS hereditary?
There are 46 chromosomes which are arranged in 23 pairs in each cell in the human body. In 95% of DS cases, pair #21 has three chromosomes instead of the normal two. This is known as disjunction, and is not linked to any hereditary factors. THe remaining 5% of DS cases may be hereditary.

Does DS result from something that occurred during pregnancy?
DS is an abnormality of the chromosome makeup in the body. It is still not known exactly what causes this error, but it is not a result of anything the mother may have done during pregnancy.

What is the life expectancy of a child with Down’s Syndrome?
At the turn of the century, most DS children died in childhood, primarily due to heart desease, leukemia, and other illnesses, In recent years there have been many major medical breakthroughs in the treatment of these problems. As a result, the average Down’s child will live to age fifty-five and beyond.

Are childred with Down’s Syndrome hopelessly retarded?
All individuals with DS have some degree of mental deficiency. This can range from very mild to profound; however, the average child is in the mild to moderate range.

Should children with Down’s Syndrome be institutionalized?
Most children can be educated within the school system, learn academic and vocational skill, perform independent living activities, and join the social scene. They enjoy sports, music, drama, dancing, games, and dating.
In the past twenty years, the trend in the U.S. has been heading away from institutionalization. Children living at home can attain a much higher IQ and function better independently. Parental love and care have a major impact on the child’s development. Society is also beginning to realize that the average child with DS is affectionate and well-mannered, and can become an integral part of the family. The overwhelming majority of parents who have opted to raise their child at home have no regrets. On the contrary - they can’t envision life without their little boy or girl.

Can people with Down’s Syndrome marry and have children of their own?
It is not uncommon for women with DS to bear children, although they do run the risk of giving birth to a baby with the disorder, although there are no documented medical reports of men with Ds fathering a child, current medical research finds it quite possible.

Can people with Down’s Syndrome live and integrate into "normal" society?
They definitely can-if society will give them the opportunity!

This article first appeared in issue #1 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us

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