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Down syndrome facts for kids

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Boy with Down Syndrome
An eight-year-old boy with Down syndrome

Down syndrome (or Down's syndrome or trisomy 21) is a genetic disorder. People with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, or part of it.

Down syndrome causes a mental handicap. It may be mild or severe. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9-year-old child. This can vary widely, but most individuals need supervision if they are to live their lives in a satisfactory way. Children who have this condition take more time to learn new things.

The condition is named after John Langdon Down, the British doctor who first described it in 1866.

There is sometimes discrimination against people with Down syndrome, both in the education system and in society in general. Some people with the condition have average intelligence, but may have other problems with development instead. People with Down syndrome often have a different shape of eyes than most people. A few people with the condition have severe learning difficulties.

Of every 800 to 1000 babies that are born, one is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Older women have a higher chance of having a baby with Down syndrome.


A child with Down syndrome building a bookcase (the drill is not in action in this photograph)

They also grow differently from other children. Babies with Down Syndrome can be identified at birth because they may have a specific set of physical features. These features include narrow eyes, a flat nose-bridge, smaller mouths and shorter fingers. Smaller mouths can result in tongue protrusion or what looks like a large tongue. Sometimes the little fingers curve inwards as well, and there is also often a space between the big toe and the others. People with Down syndrome often have heart defects or Alzheimer's disease when they are older. About 90% of people with Down syndrome live through their teens. The lifespan of a person with Down syndrome averages between 50 and 55 years old.

So far there have been no treatments for Down syndrome.

Genetic causes

Down syndrome comes from a problem with the genes. Humans are diploid organisms. This means that for each chromosome, there are two copies, one from the mother, and one from the father. During meiosis the number is reduced to one set of chromosomes. People with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, or part of it.

There are three ways that Down syndrome is caused. The most common cause of Down syndrome is trisomy. Trisomy is when the child receives two chromosomes from the mother and one from the father. This makes it so there are three chromosomes of chromosome #21. Another way Down syndrome is caused is when new cells are made. Sometimes even when the parent cells are normal chromosome 21 can be deformed when cells reproduce. This makes it so some cells have 47 chromosomes and others have 46. This is called a mosaic disorder. Mosaic means that they have a third chromosome from the replication of cells. The third way Down syndrome can be caused is called translocation. This happens when a normal chromosome breaks into two pieces. This results in three chromosomes.

Well-known people with Down syndrome

Scottish award-winning movie and TV actress Paula Sage receives her BAFTA award with Brian Cox.
  • Stephane Ginnsz, actor (Duo)—In 1996 was first actor with Down syndrome in the lead part of a motion picture.
  • Max Lewis, actor (Notes on a Scandal).
  • Joey Moss, Edmonton Oilers locker room attendant.
  • Paula Sage Scottish movie actress and Special Olympics netball athlete. Her role in the 2003 movie AfterLife brought her a BAFTA Scotland award for best first time performance and Best Actress in the Bratislava International Film Festival, 2004. Afterlife won the Audience Award at The Edinburgh Film Festival 2003. It also won Sage a role as Donna McCabe in BBC Scotland's River City soap.
  • Judith Scott, artist.
  • Johnny Stallings, son of former University of Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings and subject of the book Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son. (ISBN 0-7679-0255-6).
  • Miguel Tomasin, singer with Argentinian avant-rock band Reynols.
  • Chris Burke, American actor who portrayed "Corky Thatcher" on the television series Life Goes On and "Taylor" on Touched By An Angel.
  • Edward Barbanell, played Billy in 2005's The Ringer.
  • Karen Gaffney, Swimmer, Inclusion Activist, Motivational Speaker and President of The Karen Gaffney Foundation.

The Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles keeps a list of people with Down syndrome with roles in TV and movies.

Societies and Associations

By Country

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