Whether you are here because your prenatal screening for Down Syndrome is due, or because your child has already been diagnosed with the condition, it is necessary to stay objective and understand the condition as it will only help you to support your child better.
What Is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome, caused by a chromosomal abnormality, can slow a child’s growth, both physically and mentally. Further, a child with Down Syndrome is at a higher risk of encountering multiple medical conditions throughout life. However, this is only a possibility and not a certainty. Many kids with Down Syndrome has never had a serious medical or health problems.
What Causes Down Syndrome?
A human cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, i.e. 46 chromosomes. At the time of conception, your child inherits 23 chromosomes from the father and 23 from the mother. For reasons unknown, some children end up having 47 chromosomes, instead of 46. This extram chromosome is what causes Down Syndrome.
Nothing you or your spouse did during or before your pregnancy result in your child having Down Syndrome. However, the risk of conceiving a child with the condition increases with age.
How Is Down Syndrome Diagnosed?
Down Syndrome cannot be prevented. However, it can be detected while baby is in the womb.
There are two ways this is done:
- Prenatal screening, that checks for the probability of your child having Down Syndrome. These tests will only tell you – with the help of an ultrasound and blood test – if there is a high chance that the baby has Down Syndrome. This is usually done in first and second trimesters
- Diagnostic tests, that tells you for sure if the fetus has the condition. These tests are done only if you come out as a high risk candidate in your prenatal screening. In India, the most commonly used diagnostic test is Amniocentisis which analyzes the amniotic fluid (extracted from your womb with a needle) and checks for chromosomal abnormalities. However, diagnostic tests are known to slightly increase the chances of a miscarriage
Can Down Syndrome Be Treated?
While it cannot be cured or treated, children with Down Syndrome are capable of leading a happy and successful life if enough love, support and medical care is given to them.
What To Expect If Your Baby Has Been Diagnosed With Down Syndrome?
There are two aspects on this. The first one is what you need to expect in terms of your child’s growth in short to medium term. The second aspect is to understand clearly what future holds for your child. See below 6 pointers that will help you prepare for this:
- Difference in physical features: Your baby will most likely share a few physical features with other kids who have Down Synrome. These include: a flatter face, slanting eyes, smaller ears and nose and a tongue that tends to stick out. That said, your baby will also look like you and his/her siblings
- Delay in developmental milestones: Most kids with Down Syndrome is known to have hypnotia or low muscle tone. They tend to have problems or weaknesses in muscles, bones and joints, which impact their mobility. That said, your child will definitely learn to sit, crawl, walk and run – he/she might just take longer time to reach these milestones
- Limited intellectual impairment: You need to understand this clearly. Your child can and will learn most things that other children do. However, he/she will do it at his/her own pace. Most likely, your child might have mild intellectual impairment; this means that he/she might take longer time to develop new skills. But they will, eventually. This is why you should never compare your child’s progress with other children.
- Slower growth pace: Your child might grow at a smaller pace than what is expected from kids without Down Syndrome. And he/she might always remain smaller than the peers
- Speech delay: As with other developmental milestone, your child might take longer time to speak. This is because of the lower muscle tone we explained before which does not give the child enough control over the tongue
- Medical problems: Your child might be at a higher risk of encountering few medical problems in life (but many face no health problems whatsoever), such as:
- Congenital heart disease
- Higher chances of catching any infection
- Pulmonary hypertension (affecting lungs)
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems
- Childhood leukaemia
- Thyroid problems
For this reason, you need to take your child for regular checkups with not just his main pediatrician, but with multiple specialists as well.
What Should You Do If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Down Syndrome?
- Understand that your child is as beautiful and unique as any other. He/she just has an extra chromosome
- Do not stereotype your child under the label of “Down Syndrome”. He/she will achieve success in life, in his/her own terms. The condition need not and should not define your child’s existence
- Your child can go to school normally. Many schools have an inclusive policy and admit kids with Down Syndrome and provide extra help and support
- Ensure tha good medical care is given on a regular basis. This is perhaps the most important and practical thing for you to focus on
- There is plenty of help available in the form of collateral, online and offline support groups and forums. Reach out and seek help. Mothers who have already done this are out there more than willing to help you in the journey. Stay strong
While your child might be different and a bit disadvantaged in many ways, he/she needs yours and rest of family’s love and affection like any other child. Remember to provide more love and support to help your child succeed.