What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome (sometimes called Down’s syndrome) is a condition in which a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome — hence its other name, trisomy 21. This causes physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities.

Many of the disabilities are lifelong, and they can also shorten life expectancy. However, people with Down syndrome can live healthy and fulfilling lives. Recent medical advances, as well as cultural and institutional support for people with Down syndrome and their families, provides many opportunities to help overcome the challenges of this condition.

What causes Down syndrome?

In all cases of reproduction, both parents pass their genes on to their children. These genes are carried in chromosomes. When the baby’s cells develop, each cell is supposed to receive 23 pairs of chromosomes, for 46 chromosomes total. Half of the chromosomes are from the mother, and half are from the father.

In children with Down syndrome, one of the chromosomes doesn’t separate properly. The baby ends up with three copies, or an extra partial copy, of chromosome 21, instead of two. This extra chromosome causes problems like the brain and physical features develop.

Types of Down syndrome

There are three types of Down syndrome

  1. Trisomy 21
  2. Mosaicism
  3. Translocation


Caring for a child with Down Syndrome, whether you are a parent or a family caregiver, has special challenges and rewards. This genetic condition can present a wide range of physical and cognitive delays, so every child, family, and caregiver will have their own set of circumstances. 

The following tips offer a broad overview of how to take care of a child living with Down Syndrome.

Practice Patience

Learning a new skill may take a little longer for an individual with Down Syndrome. It’s important to get comfortable with slowing down and having an extra amount of patience. 

However, your child or client can still be a kid! For example, break household chores up into small steps and teach them, step by step, how to complete them. Build time into your day to read, play, and spend time outdoors. Children with Down Syndrome enjoy many of the same activities as children without special needs, such as athletics, music, crafts, and other hobbies.

Keep Track of the Individualized Educational Program (IEP)

When your child is ready for school, you will work with educators on developing an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). Family caregivers or personal care assistants (PCAs) must be ready to advocate for a child with Down Syndrome, as special accommodations will most likely need to be made so the child can succeed in education.

In developing an IEP, your child’s learning style will be assessed so that classroom expectations can be adjusted to meet your child’s needs. 

Set Routines While Granting Freedoms

A child with Down Syndrome will benefit from a consistent daily and weekly routine. Keep routines simple and practice patience—once again!—as you teach your child to transition from task to task. Younger children may benefit from pictures and songs to support their routines. These habits will help children feel a sense of control over their lives.

Within the structure of routines and rules, it’s important for a child to have freedom. Let your child with Down Syndrome make his/her own choices, when appropriate, for example, allow your child to choose which clothes to wear. If your child encounters a problem or challenge at school or with friends, support him/her in coming up with solutions but allow your child to solve the problem independently. This will help your child build resiliency and independence.

Learn About Special Health Risks

Not every individual with Down Syndrome will have health problems, but many do. About 50% will have a congenital heart defect and many have an increased risk of developing pulmonary hypertension. About half will have hearing and/or vision problems, too. 

With correct diagnostics and regular medical care, these health risks can often be managed.


Physiotherapy aims to address any developmental problems that arise. We analyze the child’s abilities and aid in achieving developmental milestones as quickly as possible to try to keep up with their peers.  This enables children to participate more in school, in social activities and in their communities.  The goal is to lead as full a life as possible. In order to do this, a physio will aim to improve muscle strength, coordination and balance,  and to increase tone in order to help a child maximize their function. They aim to prevent poor compensatory movement patterns that can cause problems later in life. They also recommend adaptive equipment and referrals to other healthcare professionals for helpful procedures as needed in order to really maximize the child’s growth and development in those critical years.

Although this is all critical during the developmental years, it can still be important later into adulthood as well.  All of the above is done to enable an individual to achieve maximal functional independence for improved quality of life, regardless of their age or ability.


If you or your loved one need assistance to manage complications related to Down syndrome,  at PCA we will guide, educate and treat any physical complications that arise.

PCA expert physiotherapists can explore many other variables that could be of tremendous help and prescribe treatment specific to your needs.

Call PCA for a consultation today on 0813 028 0496!

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