Down Syndrome Awareness

Posted by

Alicia Amsberry, PT, DPT

Time to read

3 minutes

Myth vs. Fact1

Myth: All people who have Down Syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

Fact: Between 20-55% of people with Down Syndrome develop symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease before the age of 50. 


Myth: People with Down Syndrome can’t go to regular public schools.

Fact: It is required by law that public schools accept and provide an appropriate education to people with Down Syndrome. 


Myth: People with Down Syndrome are always happy.

Fact: People with Down Syndrome are more like typical people than they are different. Everyone has feelings and moods. 


Myth: People with Down Syndrome can’t play sports and are all overweight.

Fact: Individuals with Down Syndrome have a variety of athletic abilities and levels of agility, in the same way that typical people do.


Myth: Having a child with Down Syndrome will ruin a marriage.

Fact: A recent Vanderbilt Kennedy Center study indicates that divorce rates are lower in families of children with Down Syndrome. 


What is Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome. This results in developmental and intellectual delays, distinct facial characteristics, and weak muscle tone.2 

Cognitive Features:2

  • Moderate intellectual disability 
  • Verbal short term memory is impaired, more so than visual memory 
  • Weakness with daily skills or self care skills 
  • Weakness with grammatical aspects of language

Physical Features:2

  • Flattened nose
  • Small mouth and ears
  • Decreased muscle tone, mostly seen in infancy 
  • Small hands with short fingers 


Types of Down Syndrome

  1. Trisomy 21: 3 copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usually 2 copies (95% of people with Down Syndrome)2
  2. Translocation: extra part or whole extra chromosome 21 attached to another chromosome (4% of people with Down Syndrome)2
  3. Mosaic: mixture of two types of cells, either continuing the usual 46 chromosomes or 47 (1% of people with Down Syndrome)2

What other medical conditions are associated with Down Syndrome?1

Not all children who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome will have associated health issues. Here are some of the medical conditions that may occur in children with Down Syndrome.

  • Congenital heart defect 
  • Increased risk of developing pulmonary hypertension 
  • Hearing and vision problems 
  • Thyroid problems
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Increased rick of infections 
  • Seizure disorders 


What does development look like for my child affected by Down Syndrome?1

Children with Down Syndrome will typically display a delay in development. However, not all areas of development will be delayed.  Children with Down Syndrome will accomplish all developmental milestones on their own timetable. Below is a reference chart that may be helpful in identifying delays and when to expect milestone accomplishments. 


How is Down Syndrome treated?1 

Interventions for children with Down Syndrome can include:

  • Physical therapy – motor development, muscle tone management 
  • Occupational therapy – sensory integration, motor development
  • Speech and language therapy – sign language, voice rehabilitation 
  • Opthalmologist – vision 
  • Cardiologist – heart disorders 


What role does physical therapy have in treating Down Syndrome? 

As noted above, children with Down Syndrome will develop a delay in gross motor milestones. This delay can be caused by low muscle tone, ligamentous laxity, and decreased strength; ultimately causing compensatory movement patterns. These abnormal movement patterns can lead to long-term issues and complications.3 

Physical therapy can aid in eliminating compensatory movements and facilitate proper movement patterns for appropriate development. In the long term, by receiving physical therapy, children will develop good posture, proper foot alignment, and an efficient walking pattern.3 


What are good resources to learn more about Down Syndrome?

  • Global Down Syndrome Foundation 
  • Move Forward PT
  • National Association for Down Syndrome
  • National Down Syndrome Society
  • Special Needs Resources




  1. Global Down syndrome Foundation
  2. National Down Syndrome Society 
  3. Move Forward PT

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