Myths and truths about Down syndrome

  • Jan 07 , 2017

In every cell in the human body, there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Normally, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome 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. 
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 - although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics differently, or not at all.

There are three different types of Down syndrome:

Standard Trisomy 21- Standard Trisomy 21 is when the extra chromosome 21 comes from either the egg or sperm cell. Between 90 per cent and 95 per cent of all Down syndrome is Standard Trisomy 21.

Translocation- This is caused when one chromosome breaks off and attaches to another chromosome. In this case, there are three 21 chromosomes but one of the 21 chromosomes is attached to another chromosome.

Mosaicism- When a person has more than one type of chromosomal is called as mosaicism, like the mosaic style of art in which a picture is made up of different colours of tiles. In Down syndrome, mosaicism means that some cells of the body have trisomy 21 and some have the typical number of chromosomes.

Photo Courtesy: Odyssey

There are many myths about Down syndrome. Let’s have a look and the myths and truths.

Myth: Down syndrome is a rare disorder. 
Truth: Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. One in every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome or around 6,000 births per year. Today, there are approximately 400,000 people with Down syndrome.
Myth: Down syndrome is hereditary.

Truth: Translocation, a type of Down syndrome that accounts for 3 to 4 per cent of all cases, is the only type of Down syndrome known to have a hereditary component. Of those, one-third (or 1 per cent of all cases of Down syndrome) are hereditary.  

Myth: All people with Down syndrome have a severe cognitive disability.

Truth: Most people with Down syndrome have a mild to moderate cognitive disability or intellectual disability. This is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses. It might take a person who has a disability to get things done or said.

Myth: People with Down syndrome are always sick.
Truth: Though people with Down syndrome are at an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, and thyroid conditions, advances in health care and treatment of these conditions have allowed for most individuals with Down syndrome to lead healthy lives.

Myth: Segregated special education programs are the only option for students with Down syndrome.
Truth: Students with Down syndrome are included in typical academic classrooms in schools. Sometimes students with Down syndrome are included in specific courses, while in other situations students are fully included in the typical classroom for all subjects. Increasingly, individuals with Down syndrome graduate from high school, and participate in postsecondary academic and college programs. 

Myth: People with Down syndrome cannot be active members of their community.
Truth: People with Down syndrome are active participants in educational, social and recreational activities. They are included in the typical education system and take part in sports, music, art programs and any other activities in the community.