Down Syndrome Characteristics - Strengths and Needs

A Chromosomal Aberration Affecting Cognition, Physiology and Motor Strength

Student with Down Syndrome. Sigrid Gombert/Getty Images

 Biological Foundation of Down Syndrome

Over the years individuals with the common chromosomal aberration in the 21st chromosome have been identified as being mongoloid, cretins, and finally, in the late 19th century, Down Syndrome, after John Langdon Down, an English Physician who first described the set of characteristics that have long been associated with the genetic abnormality. 

The chromosomal aberration is an additional full or partial copy of the 21st chromosome which causes a change in the developmental arch of the organism (child) and therefore the developmental differences.

 There is no definite cause for the presence of Down Syndrome than the random presence of this mutation.  There is a higher incidence of Down Syndrome births to mothers as their age increases, but there is no familial or genetic component.

Physical Traits

Short stature:  Often a child can be diagnosed based on the ratio of length and width of the bones in the finger.  Adult males average a height of five foot one inch and adult females average four foot eight inches.   The stature issue is also reflected in difficulty with balance, short, broad fingers and hands and later motor.  

A Flat Nasal Ridge: a flattening of the face and large tongue often contribute to sleep apnea.  

Wide Spread Feet:  Students with Down Syndrome usually have an extra large space between their big and second toes.   This creates some challenges for coordination and mobility.  

Neurological Traits

Intellectual deficits:  Children with Down Syndrome have mild (IQ or Intelligence Quotient of 50 to 70) or moderate (IQ of 30 to 50) intellectual disabilities, although a few have severe intellectual disabilities with an IQ from 20 to 35.

 

Language:  Children with Down Syndrome often have stronger receptive (understanding, comprehension) language than expressive language.  In part it is because the facial differences (flat nose ridge, a thick tongue, often attached to the bottom of the mouth requiring a simple surgery.  

Children with Down Syndrome are capable of making intelligible language, but require speech language therapy and lots of patience in order to master articulation.

 There physical differences create articulation challenges, but children with Down Syndrome are often anxious to please and will work hard to create clear conversation.

Social Traits

Unlike other disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorders which create difficulties with social skills and attachment, children with Down Syndrome are often enthusiastic to engage other people, and are very social.  It is a reason that inclusion is a valuable part of a child with Down Syndrome's educational career, since they are often very motivated to interact with typical peers, will benefit from participating in a general education classes.  

Students with Down Syndrome are often very affectionate, and may benefit from social training that includes helping students identify socially appropriate and inappropriate interactions.  .

Motor and Health Challenges

Weak gross motor skills and a tendency of parents to isolate their children may lead to long term health problems, including obesity and a lack of aerobic and gross motor skills.  Students with Downs Syndrome will benefit from physical education programs that encourage aerobic activity and builds their social skills in a new, athletic setting. 

As children with Down Syndrome age, they will have health challenges related to their physical difference.

 They are prone to arthritis due to the skeletal stresses related to their short stature and their low muscular tone.  They often do not get enough aerobic education and can often suffer from heart disease. 

Co-Morbidity

Often students with disabilities will have more than a single (primary) disabling condition.  When this occurs, it is referred to as "Co-Morbidity."  Although some sort of co-morbidity is common in all disabilities, some disabilities are more likely to have co-morbid pairs.  With Down Syndrome, it can include schizophrenia, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders.  Being attentive to the symptoms is essential to providing the best sort of educational support.