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Down Syndrome

All people with Down syndrome are gifted with talents.

Massachusetts General Hospital, Patient Information, July 3 2019: Behaviours of Children with Down Syndrome


Down Syndrome is a genetically altered chromosomal disorder which causes both developmental and physical problems ranging from mild to severe.


All people with Down syndrome are gifted with talents.

Massachusetts General Hospital, Patient Information, July 3 2019: Behaviours of Children with Down Syndrome


Down syndrome occurs when one of the body's chromosomes, chromosome 21, divides abnormally during pregnancy. There are three types of Down syndrome:

  • Trisomy 21 happens when there are three copies of the 21st chromosome. Most people with Down syndrome have Trisomy 21.
  • Mosaic Down syndrome is a rare form of Down syndrome in which there are multiple copies of chromosome 21 on several cells.
  • Translocation Down syndrome happens when part of chromosome 21 becomes attached to another chromosome.

Down syndrome is a life long condition in which affects approximately 1 in every 1100 babies born in Australia. All children with Down syndrome have some level of intellectual disability, the extent to which is often varied.

Physical Characteristics often associated with Down syndrome:

  • Eyes which are of Asian appearance (almond-shaped and slant in an upward direction)
  • Small ears
  • Flat noses particularly on the bridge of the nose
  • Protruding tongue
  • Tiny white spots in the coloured part of the eyes
  • Short neck
  • Small hands and feet
  • A single palmar crease on the hand (Simian Crease)
  • Short stature
  • Loose joints
  • Weak muscle tone

Many people born with Down syndrome do not have any other birth defect, however; there are several comorbidities which may present with Downs. The most commonly listed problems associated with DS are:

  • Ear infections and or hearing problems,
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (where breathing stops temporarily during deep sleep),
  • Refractive errors of the eyes (a high percentage of children with DS may need glasses later on to correct near-sightedness, far-sightedness or astigmatism). Because children born with DS present mostly with vision and eye conditions, it is suggested that regular checkups with an ophthalmologist to monitor and treat any problems as they arise.
  • Congenital heart defects such as AVSD which are present at birth and can be treated.
A person with Down Syndrome can lead a long and fulfilling life.
A person with Down Syndrome can lead a long and fulfilling life.

People need to realise that having a baby with Down Syndrome is not a blame game, and is no-one's fault. It's not what you did or didn't do in pregnancy. It is a genetic, chromosomal disorder. Down syndrome babies are born regardless of race, age or socio-economic background.
Like Autism, every child born with Down Syndrome will have different symptoms. No two children are alike. They will each have their unique personality and will require their own physical and emotional needs to be met, just like anyone else.

Remember, your child needs to know they are loved. Try not to give special treatment - it's important to love, cherish and handle them the same as any other member in your family.

Behavioural traits of individuals with Downs Syndrome

  • It is normal for parents of children with DS or families of a loved one who has Down Syndrome to become worried when they discover their loved ones talking to themselves. This behaviour is a common trait with Down Syndrome. Its a way of processing complex thoughts and emotions, sorting through ideas and processing problems. Although most people with and without Down Syndrome self-talk a little, there may be times when it is not socially acceptable to do so. You can contact your local GP or support coordinator and ask for strategies or advice on how to teach your child it is okay to self-talk, but probably better to do so in private or a family setting.
  • Some children with Downs Syndrome may communicate effectively, however, some may find it more difficult. In these cases; alternative language and communication strategies may be needed.
  • A Photographic Memory is a common-mark often reported and consistent with Down syndrome as they can recall people, places and past events. Photographic describes it perfectly. Because, in the words of Paul (who has Down Syndrome), most people who have Down syndrome store memories as pictures in their heads. People with Down Syndrome have strong visual learning skills and learn better, quickly by using visual aids.  
  • Children may make lists of facts they are interested in such as favourite movie actors or songs.
  • Children with DS have an extraordinary ability to memorise and can easily remember where things have been put or places they have visited. This is helpful if you are lost or need to help others find their way.
  • Encourage and utilise their organisational skills as a child because, in the future, these skills can lead to sought after employment opportunities as an adult. Children may also use this skill to organise their personal belongings. For example, they might make libraries of CDs or DVDs and will know if anything is moved.

Difficulties associated with Down syndrome:

  • People with DS have a reduced ability to process information, in particular, auditory information. Allow up to 5-7 seconds for them to process the details. You can then prompt or repeat the instruction if they have not responded.
  • Difficulties with executive functioning, i.e., can be more impulsive and may lack the ability to plan their behaviour or think ahead of time about its consequences.
  • Many people with DS have cognitive impairments which affect their memory, consolidating new information, concentrating and making decisions. Because of the high statistics of people with DS and dementia or early-onset dementia, researchers are now studying memory impairments from childhood and its links.
  • Hyper-awareness of other people.
  • A significant proportion (20-30%) of children with Down syndrome have comorbid diagnoses such as autism and/or behaviour disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Recommended Supports:

  • Speech Therapy
  • Behaviour Therapy - Skills Training
  • Behaviour Therapy - Challenging Behaviours
  • Social Skills Training
  • Occupational Therapy

See how Autism Adelaide can support you or your child

Our highly professional lived-experience therapists have the knowledge and the life experience to help you navigate your way around the NDIS maze.

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Autism Adelaide would like to acknowledge the following organisations for their contributions and resources to the Autism and Down Syndrome community.

We have found the delivery and content on these websites to be informative, easy to read and an excellent resource for unbiased and current opinions.

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Down syndrome can't be cured, but learning life skills and treatment can improve quality of life

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National Down Syndrome Society