10 myths about Down syndrome debunked

By Marilynn McLachlan

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Photo / Thinkstock
Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Photo / Thinkstock

It is World Down Syndrome Day today, a global awareness day for people who have Down syndrome, their families, peers and co-workers.

In celebration of people with Down syndrome, we look at 10 common myths and the facts behind them.

1. People who have Down syndrome are born to older mums

FACT: At least half of all people with Down syndrome are born to mums under 35, but the chances of having a child with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother.

2. People who have Down syndrome don't live past their 20s

FACT: The average lifespan of people with Down syndrome has increased significantly. In 1983 the expected lifespan was 25 years but it is now 60 years in western countries. Before the 1980s, most people with Down syndrome were institutionalised and had limited access to education and medical care and some suffered abuse. With new laws, awareness and access to appropriate care, life expectancy has greatly increased.

3. People who have Down syndrome must be placed in special educational units

FACT: Many educationalists and advocates, including the Auckland Down Syndrome Association believe that children with Down syndrome learn best in a mainstream, inclusive environment. The New Zealand Government has a policy of 'Success for All - Every School, Every Child' specifically for children with special needs and it is investing $69 million over four years to achieve a more inclusive education system.

4. People who have Down syndrome are always happy

FACT: People with Down syndrome experience the full spectrum of emotions, just like the rest of the population.

5. People who have Down syndrome all look the same

FACT: While there are certain physical features that are common amongst people with Down syndrome, such as a round face and almond-shaped, up-slanting eyes, they look more like their own family members than other people with Down syndrome.

6. People who have Down syndrome never fully grow up

FACT: Children with Down syndrome can go on to live healthy, productive lives, running their own homes and jobs.

7. People who have Down syndrome can't form proper relationships

FACT: People with Down syndrome are more than capable of forming loving, inter-personal relationships with family and friends. As adults, they can form sexual and adult relationships, date and may marry.

8. People who have Down syndrome have severe cognitive delays

FACT: With support and education, the IQ of people with Down syndrome has risen considerably since the 1980s and many have mild to moderate IQs. IQ tests do not measure factors such as creativity and many other strengths and talents.

9. People who have Down syndrome are Down syndrome people

FACT: People with Down syndrome have Down syndrome, they are not Down syndrome.

10. Finding out your child has Down syndrome is bad news

FACT: Finding out a child has special needs is difficult for any parent. One mother wrote to a Down syndrome advocacy group saying she was pregnant to a son with Down syndrome. "I'm scared: what kind of life will my child have?" she asked. Fifteen people shared their wisdom in the video below:

- nzherald.co.nz

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