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Down Syndrome

Some babies are born with a condition called Down syndrome. Kids with Down syndrome often have medical problems and trouble learning. But many can go to regular schools, make friends, enjoy life, and get jobs when they're older.

Getting special help early — often when they are just babies and toddlers — can be the key to healthier, happier, more independent lives.

What Causes Down Syndrome?

To understand why Down syndrome happens, you need to understand a little about chromosomes. What are chromosomes? They're thread-like structures within each cell and are made up of genes. Genes provide the information that decides our traits, from our hair color to whether we're girls or boys.

Most people have 23 pairs of chromosomes — half are from your mom and half are from your dad — for a total of 46. But a baby with Down syndrome has an extra chromosome (47 instead of 46) or one chromosome has an extra part. This extra genetic material causes problems with the way their bodies develop.

You have probably seen people who have Down syndrome. They have certain physical features, such as a flatter face and upward slanting eyes. They are usually smaller than most kids their age.

Down syndrome is something a person is born with it. Doctors aren't sure why this chromosome problem happens to some babies. It's nothing the mom or dad did before the child was born. Anyone can have a baby with Down syndrome.

Health Problems Are Common

About half of babies with Down syndrome are born with heart defects. This means their hearts didn’t form correctly, like having a hole where it shouldn’t be. Usually, doctors can fix these kind of heart problems with surgery. Some babies may have intestinal problems that also need surgery to fix.

Kids with Down syndrome are more likely to get infections that affect their lungs and breathing. They may have eye or ear problems or digestion problems like constipation. Some may get leukemia, a type of cancer. Each person with Down syndrome is different and may have one, several, or all these problems. 

Kids with Down syndrome tend to grow and develop more slowly than other children do. They may start walking or talking later than other babies. Special help, such as physical therapy and speech therapy, can give kids a boost with their walking and talking skills.

What's Life Like for Kids With Down Syndrome?

Many kids with Down syndrome go to regular schools and may attend regular classes. Some need special classes to help them in areas where they have more trouble learning. Their parents work with teachers and others to come up with a plan for the best way to learn. Kids with Down syndrome like their playtime too. They play sports and do activities, such as music lessons or dance classes.

Kids with Down syndrome want to be treated the same way all kids want to be treated — with respect, fairness, and friendship.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021