What is Down syndrome?

• Down syndrome is a life-long condition that causes delays in learning and development.
• It cannot be cured but problems can be eased if people with Down syndrome have the right help and if other people have a positive accepting attitude.
• It occurs because cells contain an extra chromosome number 21.
• It can occur in any family of any race, culture or religion and is never anyone’s fault.
• In New Zealand one baby in about 1000 is born with Down syndrome; that is one or more babies with Down syndrome born every week.
• People with Down syndrome are individuals and vary in their abilities and achievements. They are contributing members of society.

Down syndrome was first described in detail by an English doctor, John Langdon Down, in 1866. It is a congenital condition which randomly affects about 1 in 1000 babies born throughout the world, male and female alike.

A Syndrome means a group of recognisable characteristics occurring together. A "congenital" syndrome is one present at birth, one which cannot be "caught" later on.
Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 inside each of the body's cells. It is a chromosomal accident, not caused by anything the parents may have done before or during pregnancy. Down syndrome is recognisable at birth because of the typical physical characteristics and diagnosis will have been confirmed by chromosome analysis.

People with Down syndrome do have features in common, but they also closely resemble their parents and family. Many characteristics are attributed to Down syndrome but any one person will only have some of them - each person is an individual, with a unique appearance, personality and set of abilities. The extent to which a child shows the physical characteristics of the syndrome is no indication of his or her intellectual capacity.

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