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October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Down Syndrome Awareness: It’s About Respect, Inclusion and Love

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. This is a time to celebrate people with Down syndrome and raise awareness of their abilities and accomplishments. Down syndrome is one of the most common types of intellectual disabilities. So it’s fitting that each October, we recognize Down Syndrome Awareness Month to raise public awareness about the condition and to advocate for acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.

What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is named after Dr. John Langdon Down, an English physician who was the first to identify the disorder from its common traits in 1866. Later, Dr. Jerome Lejeune discovered that Down syndrome is a genetic condition in which a person is born with an extra chromosome, the “packages” of genes that determine how our bodies form and function. A baby is typically born with 46 chromosomes, but a baby with Down syndrome has three copies of one of those chromosomes – chromosome 21 – instead of two.

The extra copy of chromosome 21 changes how a baby’s body and brain develop, which can cause mental and physical differences. Physical development in children with Down syndrome is often slower than other children, and it may take them longer to reach developmental milestones, but they will eventually meet all or most of them. The physical symptoms of Down syndrome vary from person to person, but they commonly include:

  • A flattened facial profile, especially the bridge of the nose.
  • A short neck, with excess skin at the back of the neck.
  • Small head, ears and mouth.
  • Decreased or poor muscle tone or loose joints.
  • Almond-shaped, upward-slanting eyes, often with a skin fold that comes out from the upper eyelid and covers the inner corner of the eye.
  • A single crease across the palm of the hand.
  • A deep groove between the first and second toes.

Down syndrome can also cause intellectual and developmental symptoms that lead to cognitive impairment, which means challenges with thinking and learning. Like the physical symptoms, they vary and usually range from mild to moderate. Some common cognitive problems include:

  • Short attention span
  • Poor judgment
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Slow learning

How is Down syndrome diagnosed and treated?

The diagnosis can be made after birth, from the baby’s physical appearance. A blood test to check chromosomes will confirm the diagnosis. During pregnancy, there are two basic types of tests available to detect Down syndrome: screening and diagnostic tests.

For more information on understanding Down syndrome, read here.

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