Down's syndrome - Treatment 

Treating Down's syndrome 

There is no "cure" for Down's syndrome, but there is much that can be done to help someone with the condition lead a healthy, active and more independent life.

This includes:

  • good parenting skills and an ordinary family life
  • education and support groups to provide information and help to parents, friends and families
  • early intervention programmes to provide support for children and parents
  • access to good healthcare, including a range of different specialists

These are described in more detail below.

Emotional impact

In some cases, it may not be apparent a baby has Down's syndrome until after they are born. Giving birth can be exciting, scary and tiring, and finding out that your baby has Down's syndrome can be unexpected and alarming.

Some families accept their baby's diagnosis of Down's syndrome quickly, while others need time to adjust.

If you have recently found out your child has Down's syndrome, you may feel a range of emotions, such as fear, sadness or confusion. It is quite common for parents to have negative thoughts after the birth of their new baby.

There is no right or wrong way to react. Finding out more about the condition will give you a better understanding about how it may affect your child's life, as well as your own. 

Many parents find it reassuring to learn more about Down's syndrome and talk to other parents. The Down's Syndrome Association can put you in touch with another family who can share their own experiences with you.

Read more information for new parents on the Down's Syndrome Association's website.

Family life

Living with a young child with Down's syndrome can be demanding, particularly in the early years. It's important to find a balance to ensure your child can grow up within a happy, loving and active family environment.

As with all new babies, they need to fit in with what is going on around them and the needs of other family members. You don't always have to do educational or meaningful activities with your child, and it can be just as beneficial to their development and happiness to do fun activities with family.

Education

Increasing numbers of children with Down's syndrome are educated in mainstream nurseries or mainstream schools with support.

However, individual needs vary and some children will benefit from attending a school or nursery that provides specialist support for children with a disability or special educational needs.

Read more about special educational needs and children with a learning disability.

Support groups 

If your child has Down's syndrome, it is important to remember you are not alone in your situation.

Thousands of people in the UK have Down's syndrome, and family members, carers and friends all have experience in supporting and caring for people with the condition.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experiences with other families. They can offer you advice and talk through any fears or concerns you may have.

The Down's Syndrome Association can put you in touch with other families in your area. They also provide information about all aspects of living with Down's syndrome.

Early intervention

Early intervention programmes are widespread for children with learning disabilities and help in all areas of child development, as well as providing support to the family.

These programmes include speech and language therapy and physiotherapy, as well as individual home teaching programmes for the child and family. Being part of an early intervention programme also gives families the opportunity to find out about the syndrome, meet other families in similar situations and offer support.

During the past 30 years, extensive research has taken place looking at how people with Down's syndrome learn, and which skills are particularly challenging. There is now information for professionals and families to use that enables children to develop the skills they need to get the most out of life. Children and adults with Down's syndrome can and do continue to learn throughout their lives.

Your GP can give you further information about early intervention. You can also call the Down's Syndrome Association helpline for more advice about early intervention (0333 121 2300). It is open Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.

Care team

Children and adults with Down's syndrome need regular check-ups to monitor their health. Certain health problems may be more likely to develop in people with Down's syndrome, so it's important to monitor their health to detect and treat any problems as soon as possible. 

Read more information about the complications of Down's syndrome.

There are a number of different healthcare professionals who will monitor and treat someone with Down's syndrome. These may include:

  • a physiotherapist – a child with Down's syndrome will often have physiotherapy from a young age to help them improve their range of movement by helping them learn to roll over, sit up or walk
  • a speech and language therapist – children with Down's syndrome may have problems learning to speak. A speech and language therapist can help them learn to communicate more effectively.
  • an occupational therapist – occupational therapy gives people practical support to help them live more independently
  • a dietitian – obesity rates are particularly high among adults with Down's syndrome. A dietitian (an expert in food and nutrition) can draw up a dietary plan tailored to a person's needs, which will ensure they are eating a healthy, nutritious and well-balanced diet.
  • a GP – your GP can deal with any general health problems and some of the day-to-day management of Down's syndrome
  • a social worker – people with Down's syndrome may need help overcoming social problems, such as finding accommodation or applying for financial benefits. A social worker can help them do this, enabling them to live more independently.
  • an audiologist – an audiologist (an expert in diagnosing and treating hearing conditions) will monitor hearing to detect problems as soon as possible
  • an ophthalmologist or orthoptist – people with Down's syndrome have an increased risk of developing eye problems, such as eye infections and cataracts. An ophthalmologist specialises in treating these conditions. An orthoptist often works with an ophthalmologist to treat problems with eye movement and focusing ability, such as squints (strabismus) or "lazy eye" (amblyopia).
  • a paediatrician – a paediatrician is a doctor who specialises in treating children. They will often help co-ordinate the different types of treatment your child needs.
  • a cardiologist – a cardiologist is someone who specialises in diagnosing and treating heart conditions. People with Down's syndrome may have an increased risk of developing heart problems, so their heart must be checked regularly.

Adults with Down's syndrome

Further education and employment

Many young adults with Down's syndrome pursue further education. Some also gain employment, usually on a part-time basis, although this will depend on the individual. Many people with Down's syndrome enter loving relationships, although they may need guidance and support when it comes to things such as contraception.

Living independently

With help and support, many adults with Down's syndrome are able to lead an active and independent life. Although it may not be possible to live completely independently, increasing numbers of adults with Down's syndrome are leaving home and living in their communities with support.

In most cases, adults with Down's syndrome move into property owned and staffed by a housing association. The staff provide different levels of support, depending on the individual's particular needs.

Fertility

Men and women with Down's syndrome tend to have a reduced fertility rate. This does not mean they cannot conceive children, but it does make it more difficult. Those who decide to have children will usually need specialist guidance and support to help them cope with the physical and mental demands of a newborn baby. 

If a woman has Down's syndrome, the chance of her child also having the condition is 35-50%. It is difficult to estimate the likelihood if both parents have the condition because this is still a very rare occurrence. The risk of miscarriage and premature birth is greater in women with Down's syndrome.

Page last reviewed: 24/01/2013

Next review due: 24/01/2015

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