Dispelling some myths about Down syndrome

BY: Josphine Ohenewa Bampoe

Down syndrome is a chromosomal defect caused when a person is born with one extra copy of the 21st chromosome.

Each person receives 23 chromosomes from their mother, 23 chromosomes from their father.

People with Down syndrome have extra copy of the 21st chromosome instead of two.

Thus, people without Down syndrome have 46 chromosomes, while persons with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes in each cell.

Down syndrome occurs in all races, nationality, religion and background.

Doctors and experts are not really sure what causes it.

Dispelling myths

There are so many myths about Down syndrome.

These myths tend to impact on attitudes towards persons with Down syndrome.

Some of these myths are:

Myths #1: Down syndrome is a disease.

Fact: Down syndrome is not a disease or an illness. It is a condition some people are born with. It is referred to as a disorder.

Myths #2: Down syndrome is a rare disorder.

Fact: Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic condition.

Myths #3: Down syndrome is a hereditary condition.

Fact: Most of the time, Down syndrome is not inherited. Translocation, a type of Down syndrome, is the only type that can be passed from parent to child.

Only about three to four per cent of children with Down syndrome have translocation and only some of them inherited it from one of their parents.

Myths #4: People with Down syndrome are always sick.

Fact: Although people with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of certain medical conditions, advances in health care and treatment have made it possible for most people with Down syndrome to have healthy lives.

Myths #5: People with Down syndrome are stubborn.

Fact: People with Down syndrome can be flexible and change their minds. Due to the difficulty they have with processing language, their inability to understand what is said to them may come across as stubbornness on their part. If language is presented to them at a level they can understand, they can be flexible in their thinking. Offering them choices and helping them understand what is going to happen next (sequence of events) are ways of getting them to express themselves without appearing ‘stubborn’. Using resources such as pictures or signs to tell them what will happen next are helpful in reducing their anxiety. For example, if you are stuck in traffic with a child with Down syndrome who is becoming anxious because the car has stopped, using a picture or sign to explain that the car will move in the next 5 minutes helps to ease their anxiety as they look forward to the car moving soon.

Myths #6: Adults with Down syndrome cannot be employed.

Fact: People with Down syndrome are being employed in various work environments including hotels, restaurants, information technology, sports and more.

Early intervention goes a long way to help them achieve the most in life.

Myth #7: Only older women have babies with Down syndrome.

Fact: Even though the likelihood of a mother giving birth to a child with Down syndrome increases with age, mothers of all ages can have a child with Down syndrome. It is reported that 80 per cent of babies born with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age.

Myths #8 People with Down syndrome die young.

Fact: The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically. People with Down syndrome these days live into their 60s and even more.

Myths #9: People with Down syndrome all look the same.

Fact: Although people with Down syndrome may have certain common features such as eye and face shape, there are always significant variations. They look more like others in their own families than they do other people with Down syndrome.

Every individual with a disability has their own abilities, potential and uniqueness. Engage with them and get to know them beyond their disability.

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.