Help your child understand Down's syndrome


Every time you open a magazine or parenting website one is struck by the number of articles on how to make your child smart.

Why this obsession? Because intellectual abilities, such as a good knowledge base, language skills, being able to make decisions, problem solving, recall a sequence of steps and paying attention, provide the keys to open many doors in life – scholastic and financial success being the most obvious benefactors.

What is Down's syndrome?

Down’s syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mild to moderate intellectual impairment. It is a chromosomal disorder where, at conception, chromosome 21 splits into 3 parts instead of 2. This leads to physical and intellectual delays in development.

Parents of children with Down’s syndrome and experts who work with these children have tried and tested ways of playing to boost intellectual development. Before learning from them it’s important to help your child better recognise and appreciate peers or a sibling with Down’s syndrome. Here’s how you can explain.

How to explain Down's syndrome to a child

Down’s syndrome is a condition, not an illness

Children with Down’s syndrome are not sick. A child with Down’s syndrome will always have specific physical features that won’t change or go away as he grows older; just as you were born with with an eye colour that stays the same throughout your life.

Distinct appearance

Just like you, he looks like his parents. But a lot of children with Down’s syndrome have a special look. Often the top of his nose is flatter, his ears are smaller and he has creases on the inner fold of his eyelids. His eyes slant upwards. You may notice that his mouth is often open and his tongue pokes out.

This is because the space inside his mouth is smaller than yours and the back of his tongue is bigger. His tongue muscles are a little floppy and make the movements of his tongue a big effort.

Most children with Down’s syndrome are shorter than children their age.

Slower learner

He takes a bit longer than you might to learn things, like how to ride a bike or to remember his home telephone number. He will get there, so you just need to be understanding and patient like your parents are when you are learning something new.


A lot of children with Down’s syndrome have difficulties with speaking because of the way their tongues are formed. Some are great speakers. All the same, most love to show you their love rather than tell you by a big, long hug. You can reward their friendly and caring ways by enjoying their hug and giving them one right back


When someone finds it difficult to speak or learn something new it doesn’t make their feelings any different from yours. Treat your friend with Down’s syndrome the same way you would every other friend. Be kind, understanding and helpful.

More alike than different

He has talents and gifts just like you. His body may tire easily and he may need a little extra time to respond. However, he may be particularly good, for example, at caring for people.

Did you know

Down's syndrome is thought to be around 1 in every 650 live births in developing countries. Although the risk is higher in women over 35 years, more than 80% of Down's syndrome children are born to women under 35.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
A Section 89 panel headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo found President Cyril Ramaphosa has an impeachable case to answer on the Phala Phala scandal.
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Ramaphosa should do the honourable thing and immediately resign.
24% - 1182 votes
Ramaphosa should follow due process and submit himself to an impeachment hearing.
29% - 1461 votes
Ramaphosa should fight the findings in court and keep his job at all costs
47% - 2323 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.