WITH the intention of creating awareness, National Down Syndrome Day will be commemorated on Saturday, October 20.Down syndrome is a genetic condition that is caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 (trisomy) in a baby’s cells.According to local NPO You’re Magical, in the vast majority of cases, this condition isn’t inherited and is simply the result of a once-off genetic mistake in the sperm or egg. People with Down syndrome are diagnosed after birth and typically have some level of learning disability as well as characteristic physical features.Children born with Down syndrome are likely to have reduced muscle tone leading to floppiness (hypotonia); eyes that slant upwards and outwards; a small mouth with a protruding tongue; a flat back of the head; and below-average weight and length at birth.Founder of the organisation Trudy Chetty said: “Although children with Down syndrome share some common physical characteristics, they do not all look the same. A child with Down syndrome will look more like their mother, father or other family members than other children with the syndrome. People with Down syndrome also vary in personality and ability. Everyone born with Down syndrome will have a degree of learning disability, but the level of disability will be different for each individual.”In terms of what causes the condition, Chetty stated that there is a small chance of having a child with Down syndrome with every pregnancy, but the likelihood increases with the age of the mother. There is no evidence that anything done before or during pregnancy increases or decreases the chance of having a child with Down syndrome.Despite there being no cure for Down syndrome, there are various ways to help children living with the condition to develop into healthy and fulfilled individuals who are able to achieve a suitable level of independence. In order to achieve this, good healthcare with a range of different specialists is necessary, as well as early intervention programmes to provide support for children and parents, good parenting skills, and an ordinary family life, education and support groups to provide information and help for parents, friends and families.“Improved education and support has led to more opportunities for people with Down syndrome. These include being able to leave home, form new relationships, gain employment and lead largely independent lives. However, it is important to remember each child is different and it is not possible to predict how individuals will develop,” said Chetty. Some of the associated health conditions which are more common in people with Down syndrome include hearing and vision problems, heart disorders such as congenital heart disease, thyroid problems such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), and recurrent infections such as pneumonia. “Your child may be checked by a paediatrician more often than other children to pick up developing problems as early as possible. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, discuss them with your GP, health visitor or paediatrician,” added Chetty. For more information about Down syndrome, contact You’re Magical’s Trudy Chetty via e-mail at Trudychetty@webmail.co.za or at 081 022 2500.