The Down Syndrome Diagnosis and What That Means for Your Baby
by Suzanne Robin, RNMay 01, 2014
Finding out that your baby has Down syndrome can be sobering. You may discover this before your baby's birth, if you have genetic testing or a prenatal ultrasound done, or you might not find out until your baby is born. Expect to go through a period of grief and denial over your baby's condition, but take heart in the fact that children with Down syndrome are capable of much more, physically and intellectually, than was thought several decades ago.
Children with Down syndrome experience slower physical development than typical children, for several reasons. Most have hypotonia, or low muscle tone, along with lax ligaments that provide less support for physical activity. An overall lack of muscle tone, plus short legs, make it more difficult for Down syndrome baby to walk. The average age for walking is 24 months, compared to 13 months for typical children. Similarly, milestones such as sitting, crawling, grasping and fine motor skills such as putting a cube in a container are usually delayed as well. Children with Down syndrome have an abnormal gait, which early physical therapy can help correct.
Many children with Down syndrome also have other medical conditions. Approximately 50 percent of these children are born with a heart defect. As recently as the 1980s, concurrent medical conditions led to a life expectancy of around 25 years. Better medical care and a decrease in institutionalization of Down syndrome individuals has increased life expectancy to the mid-50s. Childhood leukemia, diabetes, thyroid disease, vision and hearing problems and seizure disorders are all more common in Down syndrome children than the general population.
Intellectual ability varies among children with Down syndrome. Nearly 40 percent have an IQ of 50 to 70, placing them in the mild intellectual disability category, according to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. An average IQ may be around 50, but scores of 120 have been found in some Down syndrome people who have been tested.
Children with Down syndrome are often highly social, affectionate and engaging, which can make them a positive addition to your family. Siblings of children with Down syndrome often develop a higher level of maturity and better communication and social skills than their peers, the National Down Syndrome Society reports. That doesn't mean you'll find parenting a Down syndrome child easy all the time, though. Support groups that connect you with other parents facing similar issues can help smooth a sometimes bumpy road. Groups can also offer your child opportunities to participate in activities, such as Special Olympics, with other children on their own level.