October 7, 2021

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time to learn about a condition that about 6,000 babies are born with each year in the United States.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States, occurring in about one in 700 babies and in people of all races and economic levels. Usually babies are born with 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. Those with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which impacts how their bodies and brains develop.

There are three types of Down syndrome:

  • Trisomy 21 — each cell has three copies of chromosome 21. Most people have this type.
  • Translocation Down syndrome — an extra whole or extra part of chromosome 21 is present, but it’s attached to a different chromosome. This occurs in about 3% of people with Down syndrome.
  • Mosaic Down syndrome — cells have a combination of the above two conditions. This affects about 2% of those with Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome have a higher risk for respiratory and hearing problems, eye issues, and thyroid and other medical conditions.

Complications at birth, such as very low birth weight and heart defects, can lead to death within the first year. Approximately 40% of children born with Down syndrome have congenital heart defects, but many of these conditions are now treatable.

People with Down syndrome have different ability levels and may meet milestones later in life than what’s considered typical. Developmental delays do not mean they’re unable to thrive.

“Prior to coming to work at HHSC, I had worked as an early intervention specialist with a local Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program and worked with children with different capabilities,” said Erika Alvarez, ECI family liaison. “Helping families and witnessing their progress is truly heartwarming. I fondly remember a mother who had a daughter with Down syndrome. She initially found it hard to accept her daughter’s diagnosis but soon became her daughter’s biggest advocate. The mom became very engaged in the sessions, asked for resources and joined groups to surround herself with support.”

Getting services to children with Down syndrome early is key to helping them develop to their fullest potential. This can include speech, occupational and physical therapy and other developmental services. Through HHS, families can reach out to the Early Childhood Intervention Services and Healthy Texas Babies programs and read the Information About Down Syndrome for New and Expecting Parents brochure.

To learn more about Down syndrome, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Facts about Down Syndrome webpage and the DSHS Down Syndrome webpage.