Parents often panic when a doctor tells them their child has Down Syndrome. They are afraid of how this will affect their child’s life as well as their own lives. While there is no cure or treatment for Down Syndrome, many children with this disorder can have good lives.
What Is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome occurs when a child is born with an extra chromosome. While it is considered a genetic disorder, most parents of Down Syndrome children are genetically normal.
The disorder can be diagnosed during pregnancy, or diagnosed after a child is born. It affects the child’s facial features, intellectual capabilities, and physical growth. Individuals with Down Syndrome have a higher risk of serious health problems.
Some of the most common examples include leukemia and other cancers, thyroid issues, epilepsy, digestive issues, oral health problems, and heart defects. A person with Down Syndrome is more likely to have fertility issues. Men, especially, are less likely to become parents, although it is possible.
Causes Of Down Syndrome
Random errors in normal cell division cause Down Syndrome. This is known as nondisjunction. It can occur in either the mother’s egg or the father’s sperm, and can occur either during or before fertilization.
In some cases, individuals who do not have the disorder themselves can carry a faulty chromosome. When the chromosome is passed on to their own child, the child can have the disorder.
A person who has had one child with Down Syndrome has a slightly higher risk of future children having the disorder. However, a person can have any number of healthy children before one child is born with the condition.
The most well-known and proven risk factor is maternal age. While younger women can have children with Down Syndrome, the risk starts to increase after 35 years of age. At age 35 the risk is 1 in 350 births, and the risk increases to 1 in 10 births by age 49. Some studies show paternal age may also be a factor.
Older women and men can undergo genetic testing before attempting pregnancy.
An extra chromosome in the mother’s egg accounts for over 90% of Down Syndrome cases. A father’s sperm accounts for approximately 4%. In other instances, it occurs after fertilization.
Caring For Down Syndromes
The prospects for a child born with Down Syndrome today are much better than those for children born in the distant past. Many individuals with this disorder can have a relatively normal lifespan. With appropriate care and treatment, up to 80% reach their senior years, and many live to become elderly.
However, there are differences in every stage of life for a person with Down Syndrome. For a child or adult to have the highest quality of life, his special needs must be addressed. His parents or other caregivers, physicians, and teachers should all work together.
First, as individuals have a higher risk of serious health issues, the person should be seen by a doctor more frequently than a healthy person. During childhood, the pediatrician can perform tests and monitoring for the medical issues common to this disorder. The child may need a surgical procedure or other intervention if he develops one of these medical issues. As he grows older, his need for testing and monitoring will continue so he can have the best possible state of health.
Second, as cognitive and intellectual development is slower, he needs a supportive, experienced educational system. Some people feel Down Syndrome children should be a part of regular classrooms, while others believe the children benefit more from Special Education. Parents can discuss their preferences with the local school district and decide which option is best for their child.
Whichever option parents choose, the child will benefit from individualized attention. Consistent support and encouragement will help him reach his highest potential. He will be able to learn, and he will feel good about himself.
Third, a supportive home and family environment is essential for a Down Syndrome child. Couples who have other children should help their children understand why their sibling requires more attention. As raising a Down Syndrome child is time-consuming and stressful, parents may wish to consider hiring a helper so they can have occasional breaks. It requires commitment, too. Parents may need to make many changes in their schedules and their priorities.
Fourth, parents with a Down Syndrome child can find many opportunities that did not exist in the distant past. Support groups for parents, recreational activities for children, and even cosmetic surgery to correct facial abnormalities are some examples. If your child has Down Syndrome, you do not need to be isolated and alone. Reach out to others, and learn about opportunities that are available in your community or state.
Down Syndrome And A High Quality Of Life
When a child is born with Down Syndrome, it no longer means giving up your child and trying to forget him. This cruel practice that was common in the past is not necessary in today’s world. While it is impossible to know what the future will bring, you can increase his chance of a healthy, happy life.
You love your child, and you want the best for him. The best includes plenty of time and attention from his own family, compassionate teachers, and experienced physicians. When you are willing to devote your time to your child, he will benefit in many ways.
A diagnosis of Down Syndrome does not have to mean hopelessness. Some Down Syndrome children grow up to be high achievers, and you will even find celebrities who have this disorder. Your child may not become famous, but he can go through his life knowing he is loved. When he is loved for himself, he will have the best chance for a good life.