To understand Down syndrome, it is important to make sure you have a basic understanding of the science behind it. During reproduction, each person gets 23 chromosomes from their mother and 23 chromosomes from their father. Chromosomes are proteins that carry your genetic information. Genetic information is what decides your natural physical makeup. Maybe you have the same nose shape as your mom, or the same height as your dad. That’s because your parents passed down their genetic information to you through chromosomes. The 46 chromosomes pair together when they meet, forming 23 pairs. Sometimes, the 21st pair of chromosomes randomly turns into a triplet. When that happens, it's called Down syndrome, named after John L. Down, the first person who discovered it. Stereotypes will tell you that people with Down syndrome are unintelligent and incapable, but that's not true. When people with Down syndrome are treated the same as people without any disabilities are treated by their societies, families, education systems, medical care providers, and governments, they can graduate from high school, graduate from college, find careers, start businesses, get married, and more. The world is just now beginning to realize this- that's why so many people with Down syndrome haven't been able to do those things in the past. The more people recognize the truth, the more people with Down syndrome will be able to accomplish!
Different genetics bring about different physical characteristics. For example, if you are of eastern Asian decent, you most likely have a flatter nose bridge than someone of Latin american descent. If you are a man, you most likely have broader shoulders than a woman. No characteristic is better than the other, they're just different. Down syndrome brings with it several different physical characteristics. Not every person of eastern Asian descent has a flatter nose bridge than people of Latin American descent. Not every man has broader shoulders than a woman. Physical characteristics associated with different genetic groups represent the majority of people in the genetic group- they do not represent each individual. Likewise, not every person with Down syndrome has every physical characteristic associated with Down syndrome.
Most people with Down syndrome are a few inches shorter in height than people without Down syndrome.
Low Muscle Tone
To put it in simple terms, muscle tone is how strong your muscles are. People with Down syndrome naturally have low muscle tone, but through exercise this can easily be changed. Some people will tell you that Down syndrome causes people to have a flat back of the head, but that’s not true. What those people are recognizing is Positional Plagiocephaly. If a baby has low muscle tone and is placed on their back for long periods of time, it is harder for them to lift their head or roll over. This leads to them staying on their back, which then leads to the flattening of the back of their head. Their head can easily be shaped back by wearing a specific type of helmet. Many insurance companies in the United States will cover the cost of the helmet, and different organizations may help to raise funds or fully pay for the cost of the helmet.
Epicanthal Eye Folds
You may have noticed that people with Down syndrome have almond-shaped eyes. A more technical term for this is "epicanthal eye folds."
A common finding in people with Down syndrome is a small airway, or, trachea. Some people with Down syndrome may also have a narrow nasopharynx.
Small Hard and Soft Palate
It is a common misconception that people with Down syndrome have large tongues. In reality, they have smaller mouths. This is what leads to the specific tone to people with Down syndrome's voices. If someone with a small hard and soft palate finds it difficult to keep their tongue in their mouth, they can easily change that with at home speech exercises.
Single Transverse Palmar Crease
If you look at the palm of your hand, you will see several large creases, possibly forming the shape of the letter “M.” Some people with Down syndrome only have one large crease across their hand.
Larger Space by Big Toe
Some people with Down syndrome have a larger space between their big toes and the rest of their toes than people without Down syndrome.
It is a common misconception that Down syndrome causes people to be unintelligent, and therefore incapable. The intelligence and capability of people with Down syndrome varies just like it does with the rest of the population. Down syndrome does not genetically make someone unintelligent or incapable. If you take any group of people with a common similarity, declare that they are unintelligent and incapable, and restrict them from a regular education, they will not be intelligent or capable. It is not the fault of their common similarity, however, it is the fault of how they were treated. This has been done to people throughout history due to their gender or race, and it's being done to people with Down syndrome right now. The only way to change that is to show people the truth about Down syndrome.
When people with Down syndrome are treated like people without any disabilities would be treated by their societies, families, education systems, medical care providers, and governments, they are able to graduate from high school, graduate from college, find careers, become entrepreneurs, get married, and start families. Just like how some people without any disability cannot accomplish one or more of those things, some people with Down syndrome cannot accomplish one or more of those things either. Your genetics, your environment, the things you are exposed to, the people you are around- everything impacts who you are. It is not different for people with Down syndrome. Having another disability along with Down syndrome can impact people with Down syndrome, as well as being abused or neglected. The main takeaway is that Down syndrome does not make you unintelligent or incapable- it does not inherently cause someone to be “less.” Below are several examples of the many successful people with Down syndrome out there.
You’ve probably heard people say that people with Down syndrome are always happy. However, that is not the case. People with Down syndrome have the same emotions as people without Down syndrome do. What people are recognizing when they say that people with Down syndrome are always happy, is actually the ability people with Down syndrome have to love everyone unconditionally. This does not mean that people with Down syndrome like everyone, nor does it mean they're always happy. What it means is that they see the humanity of each person, and place the same value on them. Exclusion and cruelty are foreign concepts to them. This can often be masked by also having other disabilities that make communication or expression of emotions difficult, being abused, or being neglected. There is no scientific evidence to corroborate this- we have not discovered a spot on the 21st chromosome that codes for unconditional love- but there are endless accounts of family members and friends of people with Down syndrome who know this to be true. Several studies have revealed that the majority of parents and siblings of people with Down syndrome feel as through their family member with Down syndrome has made their lives better.
Many people with Down syndrome are proving that stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. These people are changing the world and making history.