What is Down Syndrome?
Named after Dr John Langdon-Down who first identified it in 1886, Down (or Down’s) syndrome is a genetic condition in which a child is born with mental deficiency due to an extra or third copy of chromosome 21, making a total of 47 chromosomes in the body. This chromosome disorder changes the orderly development of the body and brain, causing delays in physical and intellectual development.
There are over 50 clinical signs of Down syndrome, but it is rare to find all or even most of them in one person. Every child with Down syndrome is different. Some common characteristics include low muscle tone, a single crease across the palm of the hand, a slightly flattened facial profile and an upward slant to the eyes.
“Common Characteristics of Down Syndrome”
- Poor muscle tone
- Slanting eyes with folds of skin at the inner corners (called epicanthal folds)
- Hyperflexibility (excessive ability to extend the joints)
- Short, broad hands with a single crease across the palm on one or both hands
- Flat bridge of the nose
- Short, low-set ears; short neck and small head
Children with Down syndrome can be observed to be friendly, carefree and optimistic. They generally love music and are very good at imitating. While slow in learning, they are also curious. At times, they can also be stubborn, naughty, and uncooperative.
Education for Persons with Down Syndrome
Educational programmes designed to help develop motor skills for persons with Down Syndrome need to play to their learning strengths. Children with Down Syndrome are observed to learn more quickly through visual (i.e. by observation) and kinesthetic means, where their arms, legs and body are guided through a movement pattern or activity. They also learn best if they practise frequently, for short periods, rather than in one long activity. The following are applications of effective learning approaches:
Visual Learning Approach
Demonstrate a specific movement or an activity, or have another child demonstrate it. Reinforce the demonstration with an instruction to “follow me” or “do the same as me”. Use picture cards or videos of people performing the movement or skill being taught.
Kinesthetic or Hands-on Learning Approach
Use your hands to guide the child’s movements. Be precise. Move the child in an exact manner as awkward patterns will be repeated. Provide repeated experiences of the correct movements and skills.
Structured Learning Approach
Plan physical activities for the child that are fun, achievable, slightly challenging, offer variety, and allow bite-sized repetition. Break down a skill or activity into much smaller parts, then have the child practice the parts separately, before gradually linking the parts together until the whole skill is achieved. Remember that the child needs more time than most of their peers to learn a skill, and repetitions help to fine-tune their coordination.
“Facts on Down Syndrome”
- Occurs in one in every 691 live births
- Most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder with 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46
- Associated with other health complications, with as many as 40% having congenital heart defects
- While incidence of Down syndrome increases with advancing maternal age, 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years
- While the average life expectancy is 55 years, many live into their sixties and seventies