Caring for People with Down Syndrome

Down syndrome expresses itself in a variety of ways, so it is impossible to make generalizations about the care people will need. Here are some common considerations:

Prenatal

It is often during pregnancy that parents learn that their child has Down syndrome. It is suggested by an ultrasound and can be confirmed to a fair degree of accuracy using amniocentesis and/or chorionic villus sampling.

Down syndrome itself requires neither treatment nor prevention. Pregnancies are often typical, and the mother should take actions to live a healthy lifestyle.

Birth

At birth, there are symptoms that suggest a child has Down syndrome:

  • Almond shaped eyes
  • Light spots in the colored portion of the eyes
  • A crease across the palm
  • Small, low set ears and nose
  • Low muscle tone

However, only a karyotype test can confirm the diagnosis.

Upon birth, doctors will conduct tests to rule out some of the more common conditions that may accompany Down syndrome:

  • ECHO cardiograph - Just under half of children with Down syndrome have congenital heart disease. An ECHO reveals any malformations and suggests to doctors the best treatment options. Many problems can be corrected with surgery.
  • Blood tests - In the early years, children with Down syndrome take many blood tests to check for hypothyroidism. Thyroid conditions can happen at any age.
  • Ear exams - Because most children with Down syndrome have smaller ear canals, ear infections and structural ear problems are common.
  • Brainstem evoked response (ABR) - related to ear care, an ABR measures responses in brain waves that are stimulated by a clicking sound to check the central hearing pathways to the brainstem.
  • Vision tests - Half of children with Down syndrome experience some degree of vision loss. Corrective lenses can help.


Early Childhood

The early years of a child’s life are particularly fun as they discover and learn about the world around them. Children with Down syndrome need the same love, care and attention expected by any toddler. In addition, many parents pursue therapies to help their child’s development. Intellectual, language and motor delays are common among children with Down syndrome, but there are services available to support their learning and help them prepare for school. With a little help, many children with Down syndrome reach milestones on a fairly typical schedule. Others just need a little more time.

Your family physician and your local health region can help you access for your child:

  • physical therapy to help muscle tone development
  • speech therapy

While the medical conditions for which doctors test babies at birth should be monitored, young children with Down syndrome should also be checked for digestive system disorders, sleep apnea and an x-ray of the neck area for Atlantoaxial instability.

School age children

The focus of children aged 5-18 is school. Parents should work with educational psychologist and teachers to ensure programming and classroom opportunities that are inclusive as possible. Children with Down syndrome benefit from interaction with their peers and vice versa.

Teenagers and young adults

Teenagers with Down syndrome are typical teens - they have raging hormones, and they need to be informed of societal pressures including drugs and alcohol. They also need sex education.

The late teens are also a time to explore independence. Many adults with Down syndrome live independently and hold successful jobs and careers. Together with their parents, it is time to start planning for the future.