Dispelling Down Syndrome Myths

« Back to BlogBy Carol Gerber

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month! In honor of this month, join Humanus as we celebrate and spread awareness of those with Down syndrome!


Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that was first accurately described by physician John Langdon Down in a scholarly journal in 1866. His extensive research and medical contributions earned him the recognition of the “father” of the syndrome which was later named for him.

Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes, but those with Down syndrome are born with 47 chromosomes. This extra chromosome alters the course of development and causes changes in how the body and brain develop. There are three types of Down syndrome: trisomy 21 (nondisjunction), translocation and mosaicism. Trisomy 21 is the most common type of Down syndrome, making up 95% of all cases. This type of Down syndrome is caused by the faulty cell division of chromosome 21. Instead, the having two copies of this chromosome in every cell, a person with Down syndrome has three copies. Translocation occurs in only 3% of all cases and occurs when an extra part or whole chromosome 21 attaches itself to another chromosome. Mosaicism is the least common type, occurring in 2% of all cases. Of this type, there is a mixture of two types of cells. Some contain 46 chromosomes, while others contain three copies of chromosome 21.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States. According to the CDC, 1 in every 700 babies is born with the syndrome, equaling about 6,000 born each year. It is not known what causes the extra chromosome, though it is known that the higher the age of the mother, the higher the chance the baby will have the condition.

Down Syndrome Awareness Month is linked to the founders of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). NDSS was founded in 1979 by Barton and Betsy Goodwin after they learned their child had Down syndrome and noticed the lack of resources and support available to parents. By the early 1980s, NCSS successfully worked to make October officially Down Syndrome Awareness Month, which continues in practice today.

Myths & Truths

There are many misconceptions about Down syndrome. Below are a few common myths and facts about this condition:

MYTH: Down syndrome is hereditary and runs in families

TRUTH: Translocation, which accounts for 3 to 4% of all cases, is the only type of Down syndrome known to have a hereditary component. Of the translocation cases, only one third (or 1% of all cases of Down syndrome) is hereditary.

MYTH: “Special needs” is an appropriate term to use when referring to a person with Down syndrome

TRUTH: The term “special needs” is a patronizing term that segregates those with a condition and serves to distance those people from inclusion. For more information, visit notspecialneeds.com.

MYTH: People with Down syndrome are always sick

TRUTH: Some people with Down syndrome have an increased risk of congenital heart defects, hearing loss, and eye issues, but with advances in health care, most of these conditions can be easily treated.

For more Myths and Facts, check out the NDSS website here: ndss.org

Ways to Celebrate!

Join the movement in celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness Month by advocating your support and spreading awareness by taking part in the following:


  • cdc.gov
  • downsyndromeinfo.org
  • globaldownsyndrome.org
  • nads.org
  • ndss.org
  • notspecialneeds.com

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