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Down's syndrome - Characteristics of Down's syndrome

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Down's syndrome can affect a person in many different ways and each individual will experience different social and healthcare needs.

Physical appearance

People with Down's syndrome share a number of physical characteristics. Not everyone will have all of them, but they may include:

  • reduced muscle tone which results in floppiness (hypotonia)
  • a small nose and flat nasal bridge
  • a small mouth
  • eyes that slant upwards and outwards
  • a big space between the first and second toe (sandal gap)
  • broad hands with short fingers
  • their palm may have only one crease across it (palmar crease)
  • a below average weight and length at birth

However, it is important to note that people with Down's syndrome do not all look the same and will share physical features with their parents and family.

Delayed development

All children with Down's syndrome have some degree of learning disability and delayed development, but this varies widely between individual children.

Babies with Down's syndrome also often have short arms and legs and low muscle tone, making it harder for them to learn how to move.

Certain development milestones are often affected, including:

  • reaching
  • sitting
  • standing
  • walking
  • communicating
  • talking
  • reading

A small proportion of children with Down's syndrome have additional medical complications that also affect their development (see complications of Down's syndrome).

Some children also experience autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These extra difficulties affect about 10% of children with Down's syndrome. Speak to the health professionals working with your family for advice or an assessment if you believe your child may be experiencing extra difficulties.

It is important to recognise that a child with Down's syndrome may still acquire many of the cognitive and social skills most other people develop. It simply takes more time, and a child should be allowed to move forward at their own pace.

Read more about children with a learning disability and how Down's syndrome is treated.

Medical Review: January 24, 2013
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