Down’s syndrome

What is Down’s syndrome? What causes it? And what support is available?

Boy with down's syndrome on the phone

Learning difficulties in people with Down's vary from person to person

What is Down’s syndrome?

Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that causes some learning disability and people to look a certain way.

Characteristics include upward-slanting eyes, a flat facial profile with a flat nasal bridge and a small mouth. 40-50% of people with Down’s syndrome have heart problems, and a significant number have hearing and sight problems. All people with Down’s syndrome have some degree of learning disability, although the handicap varies from person to person.

750 babies are born with Down’s syndrome every year.

What causes Down’s syndrome?

Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome. It can come from either the mother or the father. Research shows that older mothers have a higher chance of giving birth to babies with Down’s syndrome, but the reason for this is unknown and young mothers have children with Down’s too.

When is a baby diagnosed with Down’s?

This is generally made at birth when the baby may already have some or all of the physical symptoms of Down’s syndrome and slower development. A chromosome test would then need to be done to confirm the diagnosis.

A screening test can be done before a baby is born to find out the likelihood of it having downs, but they’re not definite. If a doctor thinks there is a possibility that your baby will have downs or another genetic condition, you will be referred to a geneticist who will explain the possibilities and your options.

What treatment is available?

There is no ‘cure’ for Down’s syndrome, but there is support available, speech and language therapy and counselling.

Can people with Down’s live normal lives?

People with Down’s syndrome can live full lives. With support, they can become semi-independent, get an education, get jobs, and have healthy friendships and relationships.

The type of education people with Down’s syndrome have, depends on their learning disabilities. Some people will go to mainstream schools and have support from a teaching assistant or SENCO (special educational needs coordinator), others will go to a specific school for people with learning disabilities.

A number of people with Down’s do go into further education, whether that’s getting a diploma or even getting A levels and going to University, it all depends on the person. Either way, with the right support and education people with Down’s can often get a job and become more independent.

More and more people with Down’s are now having relationships and getting married. Women with Down’s are often able to have children, but men with Down’s syndrome have a lower fertility rate than men in general. Either way, young people with Down’s should use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs.


Photo of boy with Down’s syndrome by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015