Man with a disability working in the laundry business

Myths about Down syndrome

December 18, 2015

There are many myths about Down syndrome. Here are four of them, but there is more work to be done to debunk them once and for all.

Down syndrome is not a disease or illness, it is a genetic disorder which occurs when someone is born with a full, or partial, extra copy of chromosome 21 in their DNA. In Australia, approximately 270 children, or one in 1,100, are born with Down syndrome each year.

While people with Down syndrome can have a range of common physical and developmental characteristics such as a level of intellectual disability, two people can have very different experiences from one another. Some people may need very little support to learn and develop, while others may need more support throughout their lives.

There are many myths that continue to surround Down syndrome – let’s take a look at a few of them.

Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy

Even though this assumption may seem like a positive one, the truth is that this is simply not the case. The reason why it is important to dispel this myth is because it suggests that people with Down syndrome are not capable of feeling the full range of emotions.  Anger, fear, joy, sadness, embarrassment, and excitement are just a few emotions that people with Down syndrome can, and do experience. Just like anyone else, they’ll feel sad when something upsetting occurs, but will, of course, be happy in happy situations.

People with Down syndrome can also experience depression and anxiety, and could even be at a higher risk of mental illness than other groups. Depression and anxiety in those with Down syndrome is also often under-treated, highlighting the importance of dispelling our first myth.

Myth: Only older women have babies with Down syndrome

While it is true that the probability of a mother giving birth to a child with Down syndrome does increase with age, mothers of all ages can have a child with this disability.

Whilst maternal age is a factor, the likelihood increases incrementally.  For example by 35, the likelihood of a woman conceiving a child with Down syndrome is about 1 in 350, by 40 1 in 100, and by 45 about 1 in 30 (Mayo Clinic).

It is actually true that approximately 80% of children born with Down syndrome are to women younger than 35, simply down to the fact that younger women have more babies (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Myth: People with Down syndrome can’t be independent

This is a misconception that stretches back decades, and really couldn’t be further from the truth. As Down syndrome can be quite varied, some people may be quite independent, while others will need a greater level of support throughout their lives. However people with Down syndrome can live very independent lives, own their own house, and require little to no support from others.

There is also a misconception that people with Down syndrome cannot read or write.  However the majority of children learn to read and write, as well as attend school, score great grades, and may choose to move onto higher education, and have wonderful fulfilling careers.

Myth: People with Down syndrome die young

According to a report published by Mayo Clinic, a child born in 1910 with Down syndrome would be unlikely to live through to his or her 10th birthday. Fast forward 100 years, and the advances of medical science have dramatically increased the life expectancy of people with Down syndrome.

However, while the myth persists that a person with the disability would be unlikely to turn 40, figures released by the European Journal of Public Health state otherwise. Today, many people with Down syndrome live past their 60th year, and some may live well into their 80s.