ERIC Identifier: ED304819
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Manfredini, Dianne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Down Syndrome. ERIC Digest #457.
The term Down syndrome is taken from the name of the English physician, Dr.
John Langdon Down, who is credited with first describing the condition in 1866.
It was not until 1959 that the actual chromosomal abnormality associated with
the syndrome was discovered. Dr. Jerome Lejuene found that individuals with Down
syndrome possessed additional genetic material in their cells, usually an extra
chromosome. Instead of having 46 chromosomes in each cell (22 pair of autosomes
or non-sex chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes, xx in females, xy in
males), individuals with Down syndrome most commonly have 47 chromosomes with
the extra chromosome associated with the 21st pair. The term Trisomy 21 is
therefore used to describe this configuration of three #21 chromosomes. About
95% of all individuals with Down syndrome have Trisomy 21.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DOWN
Individuals with Down syndrome may vary significantly in terms of
physical and psychological characteristics. The list of possible characteristics
however should not obscure two important facts: clearly individuals with Down
syndrome are first and foremost people who have similar needs, desires, and
rights as others; and, the effects of intensive interventions with young Down
syndrome children are only now being evaluated, hence making many of the
historical descriptions of Down syndrome no longer accurate.
Some of the physical characteristics observed in persons with Down syndrome
include the following: the back of the head is often flattened, the eyelids may
be slightly slanted, small skin folds at the inner corners of the eyes may be
present, the nasal bridge is slightly depressed, and the nose and ears are
usually somewhat smaller. In the newborn there is often an excess of skin at the
back of the neck. The hands and feet are small and the fingerprints are often
different from chromosomally normal children.
Individuals with Down syndrome have loose ligaments and their muscle strength
and tone are usually reduced. If the ligaments between the first two neck bones
are loose, there may be a condition referred to as Atlanto-Axial Instability.
About one-third of children with Down syndrome have congenital heart disease.
Other congenital defects such as blockage in the bowels and cataracts, although
rare, may also be present. Hearing deficits, visual problems, and thyroid
dysfunction are often observed in persons with Down syndrome.
WHAT CAUSES DOWN SYNDROME?
In Trisomy 21, the extra
chromosome can usually be traced to the egg, although it has been hypothesized
that it may come from the sperm in 20% of the cases. It is suspected that during
cell division of the egg (or sperm), the two #21 chromosomes do not separate
properly and one cell will therefore have an extra #21 chromosome which later,
if united with a normal cell, may lead to Trisomy 21. What causes this improper
cell division is unknown. Factors such as viral infections hormonal
abnormalities, x-rays, and certain drugs are being investigated as potential
causal factors. A small number of cases are genetic in origin; these can be
determined through genetic counseling.
HOW OFTEN DOES DOWN SYNDROME OCCUR/RECUR?
Down syndrome is
the most common clinical cause of mental retardation in the world. It occurs
once in every 1,500-2,000 births when the mother's age is below 25; one in every
400 births when the mother's age is over 35; once in every 40 births when the
mother's age is over 45. A mother with a child with Down syndrome has a
one-in-25 chance of recurrence. Siblings of Down syndrome have the same risk of
having a child with Down syndrome as does the general population unless the
disorder is of genetic origin.
HOW DOES DOWN SYNDROME AFFECT DEVELOPMENT?
All areas of
development may be delayed in a child with Down syndrome. Poor muscle tone
influences gross and fine motor development but this can be improved with
physical therapy; a consistent, structured program of physical activity; and an
ongoing weight maintenance plan. Likewise, language development delays due to
muscle problems and cognitive limitations can be alleviated via structured
stimulation programs and language therapy to improve skills.
Since mental retardation frequently occurs in children with Down syndrome,
higher integrative abilities such as the ability to think abstractly and to form
concepts are likely to be affected. However, appropriate educational programs
have demonstrated impressive successes in teaching functional academic skills as
well as critical self-help and daily living skills. Most individuals with Down
syndrome learn to care for themselves and function within a community. With
appropriate training, they can secure employment, often in the competitive job
market, especially through supported work programs.
WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN EDUCATION PROGRAMS?
syndrome is identifiable at birth in the majority of cases, an early
intervention program, either in the home or in a center-based setting, affords
both the child and the parent an opportunity to learn and grow. The Education of
All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) and the infant-toddler focus of P.L.
99-457, ensure each child the right to a free appropriate public education
program until age 21.
The content of the school program should be closely aligned to the child's
immediate needs and prior experiences. The curriculum should focus on
communication skills, social skills, self-help skills, motor development, coping
successfully with the physical environment, the enrichment of sensory
experiences, functional academics, and daily living skills. It should be
organized around long-term skill sequences designed to facilitate the
acquisition of necessary independent functioning skills. As an adult, the
individual should have the skills necessary to live in the community and secure
vocational training or employment.
Rates of development vary from individual to individual; however, as with any
person, education, stimulation, and the opportunity to participate in a variety
of experiences facilitate all areas of development and assist the individual in
becoming more able to deal with the daily environment in a meaningful way.
CAN DOWN SYNDROME BE DIAGNOSED BEFORE BIRTH?
is the most common of the forms of mental retardation that can be identified
during the prenatal and perinatal periods. Amniocentesis, which involves
inserting a needle through the mother's abdomen and withdrawing amniotic fluid
(fluid surrounding the fetus), can be performed around the 14th week of
pregnancy. The fluid can be subjected to chemical tests and the chromosomes
analyzed. In this manner, Down syndrome can be detected. Amniocentesis is often
recommended if there is a history of Down syndrome in the family or if the woman
is over 35 years of age. Alternatives to amniocentesis such as chorionic villus
sampling are currently being investigated.
Association for Retarded Citizens-United States, P. O. Box 6109, Arlington, TX 76005 (1-800-433-5255).
National Down Syndrome Congress, 1800
Dempster Street, Park Ridge, IL 60068-1146 (1-800-232-6372) (312-823-7550).
National Down Syndrome
Society, 141 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010 (212-460-9330).
The National Information Center for Handicapped Children and
Youth, Park Place Bldg., Suite 1100, 7926 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22101 (703-893-6061).
Down Syndrome: A Resource Handbook (1988), by Carol
Tingey, Editor. College Hill/Little Brown, 4284 41st Street, San Diego, CA 92105.
An Overview of Down Syndrome (1986) by Siegfried M. Pueschel. Available for $3.00 from ARC-United States, P. O. Box 6109, Arlington, TX 76005.
The Young Person with Down Syndrome: Transition from
Adolescence to Adulthood (1988), by Siegfried M. Pueschel, Editor. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, P. O. Box 10624, Baltimore, MD 21285.