Down’s Syndrome

What is it?

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder where someone is born with an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. It is the most common genetic chromosomal disorder and cause of learning difficulties in children.

How does it affect children?

Children and young people with Down’s syndrome usually have mild to moderate learning difficulties. This can affect their long- and short-term memory as well as their speech & language development.

What causes Down’s Syndrome?

There are no known behavioural or environmental factors that cause Down’s syndrome. Most of the time, Down’s syndrome isn’t inherited. It’s caused by a mistake in cell division during early development of the foetus.

Human cells normally contain 23 pairs of chromosomes. One chromosome in each pair comes from your father, the other from your mother. People with Down’s Syndrome have an extra part or full copy of chromosome 21.

For most people with Down’s Syndrome, they have three copies of chromosome 21 in all of their cells across their body. Other children may only have some cells that have an extra copy of chromosome 21 (Mosaic Down’s Syndrome) or have part of chromosome 21 attached to one of their other chromosomes (Translocation Down’s Syndrome).

Supporting children with Down’s Syndrome

Depending on your child’s needs, the Children’s Integrated Therapies Service may support them to develop a range of skills such as using speech sounds or their understanding of language.

As each child with Down’s syndrome is unique, treatment will depend on their individual needs. For example, some children have significant health problems such as serious heart defects while others have few medical needs. Each child may need different kinds of help and the help they need may change as they get older. For many children with Down’s syndrome their therapy program will incorporate working on a range of different targets at the same time.

Children who are identified as having Down’s Syndrome are likely to be referred to the Children’s community Physiotherapy Service within the first few weeks of life and will be seen within 12 weeks from the referral to provide advice about how to carry and lift your child in ways which help them to develop their gross motor skills.

Non-urgent advice: Learn more

For more information:

Further support

Visit our SLT resources section for more advice about supporting your child’s speech and language skills.

Visit our Occupational Therapy resources section for more activity sheets to support your child.

Page last reviewed: 23 June, 2023