While Down syndrome may have a single cause - an extra chromosome 21 - no two people with Down syndrome are identical. Each person with Down syndrome has their own personality, strengths and weaknesses. While it is impossible to say what Down syndrome will mean for any one individual, there are some general physical features, medical problems and developmental delays that affect most people with Down syndrome.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Down syndrome is not a rare condition and it has been well-described and well-studied. To date, over 120 separate physical, medical and psychological features have been described in people with Down syndrome. It is important to remember that no one person with Down syndrome will have all of the features described and many of the features described are inconsequential to the health of the person. For example, a significant number of people with Down syndrome (about 60%) have a short curved small finger - a condition called clinodactyly. While this is interesting, it does not affect how a person with Down syndrome’s hand works. It is merely one of the many features that has been described and can be seen in people with Down syndrome.
The purpose of listing some of the features seen in people with Down syndrome is not to scare or overwhelm you, but to enable you to be proactive in caring for your child. By knowing what you might expect, you can take the steps necessary to get the right treatments and support, if you child does start to show any concerning signs or symptoms. It is important to remember that no one individual with Down syndrome will have all of the features of Down syndrome and that not all of the features that have been described are medically important.
Characteristics and Treatment
All infants and people with Down syndrome have some characteristic facial features, physical features, medical problems and cognitive delays in common. The features and medical problems associated with Down syndrome vary widely. Some kids with Down syndrome need a lot of medical attention, others lead healthy lives. While there are treatments for the medical conditions sometimes faced by people with Down syndrome, there is no cure for Down syndrome. Most of the medical problems seen in individuals with Down syndrome are also seen in other people. That is, the medical problems are not specific to Down syndrome, they just occur more frequently in people with Down syndrome.
How Down Syndrome Affects People
Kids with Down syndrome tend to share certain facial and physical features such as a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eyes, small ears, and a large or protruding tongue. At birth, infants with Down syndrome often appear “floppy” due to a condition called hypotonia (low muscle tone). Though hypotonia can and often does improve with age and physical therapy, most children with Down syndrome typically reach developmental milestones — like sitting up, crawling, and walking — later than other kids.
At birth, kids with Down syndrome are usually of average size, but they tend to grow at a slower rate and remain smaller than other children their age. For infants, low muscle tone may contribute to feeding problems and motor delays. Toddlers and older kids may have delays in speech and in learning skills such as feeding, dressing, and toilet training.