Do You Know Enough about Down's Syndrome? | Western Cape Government

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Do You Know Enough about Down's Syndrome?

(Western Cape Government)

Down's Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder arising at conception. It is a result of an extra number 21 chromosome (Trisomy 21), which causes delays in physical and intellectual development. However, the exact cause of Down's Syndrome is currently unknown.

The Western Cape Government (WCG) aims to create awareness and to communicate facts about the condition.


Facts about Down's Syndrome

  • People with Down's Syndrome have mild to moderate mental impairment.
  • The cause of Down's Syndrome is not related to age, race, religion or socio-economic situations.
  • It is estimated that one in 1 000 babies born in developed countries and 1 in 650 babies born in developing countries are affected by Down's Syndrome.
  • 80% of children affected by Down's Syndrome are born from mothers under the age of 35, although women over the age of 35 are at a higher risk of having a child with Down's Syndrome.
  • Children with Down's Syndrome can be included in normal schools with regular academic procedures.
  • Although Down's Syndrome cannot be cured, people with this condition benefit from loving homes, appropriate medical care, early intervention, educational and vocational services.
  • Due to advanced medical care, the majority of people born with Down's Syndrome have a life expectancy of approximately 55 years.

Prenatal Screening

Detecting Down's Syndrome in a foetus is a two-step process, this involves firstly a screening for risk and then a diagnostic test to determine if the detection truly exists.

Screening Methods:

There are a number of ways to identify high-risk pregnancies. This is usually done by measuring the mother's blood levels of certain proteins and hormones, and the use of ultrasound to scan nuchal translucency - the thickness of a layer of fluid that forms near the neck of a developing foetus. Too much liquid there is often a sign of Down's Syndrome.

Importance of Early Intervention

The first patterns of learning and behaviour influencing development are laid down in a child's early years. There are certain critical periods during a child's early years when he/she is most responsive to learning experiences. A child's environment and learning experiences have a major effect on development and learning, both greatly influence the degree to which a child reaches his/her full potential.

Parents usually need help in establishing constructive patterns of parenting a young child with a disability. Providing adequate care, stimulation and training for their child during the critical early years when basic developmental skills should be acquired, can be cost effective.

Your Right as a Parent?

Down Syndrome South Africa does not consider the Down's Syndrome condition a reason for termination; however, it remains the parents' choice.

School Options for Down's Syndrome Learners

Public schools must admit Down's Syndrome learners and serve their educational requirements without unfairly discriminating in any way. They may not administer any test related to the admission of a learner to a public school. Ordinary schools must make every effort to provide education for learners with special educational needs, making sure that these learners have the support that they require. It is not enough for the school just to accept the child. The school must support the child's needs as well.

What Services Does WCG Health Provide?

Tygerberg Hospital offers a weekly Down's Syndrome Support Group, which is run by the Down's Syndrome Association, offers early developmental stimulation and support to parents.

At Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, very specific services are offered for children who have Down's Syndrome and their families. The Toy Library, which is situated in close proximity to the Developmental Clinic, attends to children with Down's Syndrome as well as their caregivers, from birth until they start school. Appointments are made on a monthly basis in accordance to the children's age, so that the families of same aged children meet with each other once a month when attending the Toy Library. This encourages the development of parent support groups, where they share stories with each other, and often provide solutions within their own peer group.

The Speech Therapy Department of the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital runs a speech therapy clinic in the Toy Library for all attending children. Speech delay is very common in children who have Down's Syndrome, and it is one of the areas that parents have most concern. The speech therapist does both individual and group therapy sessions, where children and their caregivers participate in activities as are seen in educare and preschool settings, using aids such as music and reading materials, encouraging turn-taking and general social skills development.

The ultimate aim of these services is to provide the children with basic school readiness skills.

Important Contacts

Toy Library (Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital)
Tel: 021 658 5610

Down Syndrome South Africa
Tel: 0861 - DOWNSA (0861 369672)

Source: Department of Heath

The content on this page was last updated on 19 March 2014