October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time to both learn about the condition and celebrate those who have this disability. Here are five things you should know about the condition:
1. Down syndrome—named after the English doctor, John Langdon Down, who was the first to categorize the common features of people with the condition—occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome, the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. The Centers for Disease Control in 2014 estimated that about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome, which is about 1 in every 700 babies born.
2. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all. All people with Down syndrome experience cognitive delays, but the effect is usually mild to moderate and is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses.
3. People with Down syndrome are significantly predisposed to certain medical conditions including congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, and Alzheimer's disease. There is also evidence of an increased risk of celiac disease, autism, childhood leukemia, and seizures. It is rare for a person with Down syndrome to have a solid tumor cancer or cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades – from 25 in 1983 to 60 today. The dramatic increase to 60 years is largely due to the end of the practice of institutionalizing people with Down syndrome.
4. Approximately 67 percent of prenatal diagnoses for Down syndrome result in an abortion, according to estimated pregnancy termination rates from 1995-2011.
5. Mothers of individuals with Down syndrome typically exhibit better psychological well-being profiles in comparison to mothers of individuals with other intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is extensive evidence that mothers of young children with Down syndrome experience lower levels of stress, more extensive and satisfying networks of social support, less pessimism about their children's future, and they perceive their children to have less difficult temperaments. A major study also found that divorce rates were lower (7.6 percent) for families of children with Down syndrome as compared to 10.8 percent in the population group with non-disabled children and 11.25 percent for families of children with other congenital birth defects.