Demystifying Down Syndrome

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the U.S. About one in 700 babies — approximately 6,000 children — are born with Down syndrome each year.

What is Down syndrome? All human cells contain 46 chromosomes. Chromosomes are inherited from parents and determine genetic traits. Down syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs when a person has an additional copy of chromosome 21. This extra genetic material changes a baby’s development and causes the traits associated with Down syndrome.

The likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother, especially after 35. Prenatal screening and diagnostic testing during pregnancy can provide information on the probability and/or diagnosis of Down syndrome and are offered to women of all ages during pregnancy.

While each person with Down syndrome is a distinct individual with different abilities, some common physical characteristics of the condition include low muscle tone, smaller stature, a crease across the palm, slightly “flattened” facial features and an upward tilt to the eyes. Children with Down syndrome may experience a variety of cognitive delays, from very mild to moderate or severe.

A century ago, the average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome was less than 10 years. Medical advances now enable individuals with the condition to live into their sixties and beyond. Today more than ever, people with Down syndrome are engaged and active in their communities. This October, First 5 LA celebrates the abilities of all people with Down syndrome who live in Los Angeles County. To learn more about Down Syndrome Awareness Month activities, including the 25th annual Buddy Walk, visit www.dsala.org.

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