6 Myths About Down Syndrome

While many people with Down syndrome are active participants in the educational, vocational, social, and recreational activities of their communities, much misinformation exists about this genetic disorder.

To help set the record straight, Cevallos dispels some common Down syndrome myths and facts.

Myth: My unborn child couldn't be at risk for Down syndrome.
One in every 691 babies born in the United States has Down syndrome, making it the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. It affects people of all races and economic levels. While the likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother, anyone can have a child with Down syndrome.

Myth: There's no benefit to testing a fetus for Down syndrome if you plan to continue a pregnancy regardless of the results.
Everyone is different, but some parents have found it helpful to know in advance so that they could make preparations prior to the birth, like informing other family members and doing research on the latest Down syndrome information. Families who have chosen this option have reported that the birth of their child with Down syndrome is as much of a celebratory process as any other birth because they have had time to adjust to the new diagnosis.

Myth: All babies with Down syndrome look different at birth.
Once a baby is born, doctors will usually suspect Down syndrome if certain physical characteristics are present. Characteristics include a flat facial profile, a small nose, an upward slant to the eyes, a single deep crease across the center of the palm, an excessive ability to extend the joints, small skin folds on the inner corner of the eyes, and excessive space between the large and second toe. However, not all babies with Down syndrome have all these characteristics, and many of these features can be found, to some extent, in individuals who do not have the condition. Therefore, doctors must perform a special test called a karyotype before making a definitive diagnosis.

Myth: Down syndrome causes a number of health problems that can't be addressed.
People with Down syndrome do have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory issues, hearing problems, Alzheimer's disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions. But many of these conditions are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome lead healthy lives.

Myth: People with Down syndrome need to be raised in a special environment.
Many people with Down syndrome are able to live fulfilling lives at home with positive support from family, friends, and the community. Studies have shown that while families do experience additional challenges, their levels of well-being are comparable to families who do not have a child with Down syndrome. Researchers say that what seems to determine if families are able to thrive is their ability to access individual, family, and community resources.

Myth: Little is known about preventing and treating Down syndrome.
Research is making great strides in identifying the genes on chromosome 21 that cause the characteristics of Down syndrome. Scientists now feel strongly that it will be possible to improve, correct, or prevent many of the problems associated with Down syndrome in the future.

For more Down syndrome information, you can visit the National Down Syndrome Society's website.

Julie Cevallos reviewed this article.




Cevallos, Julie B. Vice President of Marketing, National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Email interview 15 Jan. 2015.