Down Syndrome: Understanding Differences #TrisomyAwarenessMonth

As a teenager, I was always self-conscious about my unusually hairy arms. To make matters worse, one day when I was babysitting, a little girl asked me, “Why are your arms so hairy?”

The question took me off guard at first. Most people my age knew better than to point out such differences. But this child simply wanted to know, “Why are you different?”

I tried to explain to her that my mom had hairy arms, her mom did too, and so forth. I’m not sure the answer satisfied her, but she didn’t ask again.

Children in particular can have a hard time understanding why some people are different from them. This is even more evident when those differences are physical. If someone looks or talks differently, your child may want to understand why.

In honor of Trisomy Awareness Month, we want to help you and your children understand some of the differences about those with Down syndrome, the most commonly known trisomy condition, Trisomy 21.

Then when your kids want to know, “Why are they so different?” you can help them understand that people with Down syndrome aren’t really that different after all.

What is Down syndrome?

The National Association for Down Syndrome puts it simply: Down syndrome is “a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development” (1). You may recognize someone with Down syndrome by physical traits like upward slanting eyes or a slightly flattened face (2).

In more technical terms, kids with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which changes the way a child develops (3). Almost all cases of Down syndrome are not hereditary, meaning that it isn’t something passed on from parent to child (4).

Who is affected by Down syndrome?

As the most common chromosomal disorder, odds are that you have met or will meet someone with Down syndrome in your lifetime (5).

About 1 in 800 babies is born with Down syndrome, adding up to 200,000 people affected in the US! (6)

These 200,000 people come from a variety of backgrounds, because Down syndrome can affect anyone — regardless of race or socioeconomic status (7).

How does Down syndrome impact someone’s life?

While Down syndrome does cause mental delays, most people with down syndrome are only mildly to moderately cognitively impaired (8). In fact, people with Down syndrome often go to school and work and make real contributions to their communities (9).

Down syndrome does increase risk of some other medical conditions, including heart defects, leukemia, and Alzheimer’s (10). In the past, the life expectancy for someone with Down syndrome was only 25. Thanks to modern medicine, however, the average life expectancy today is 60! (11)

More Alike Than Different

While Down syndrome does impact a person’s life, those with Down syndrome still have unique talents and contributions to share with the world. As the National Association for Down Syndrome puts it, “Most children with Down syndrome . . . are more like other children than they are different” (12).

As we do our part to understand a little more about Down syndrome, we can help our children and those around us see that those with Down syndrome really aren’t that different after all.


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1-2. National Association for Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Facts about Down syndrome. Retrieved


3. National Down Syndrome Society. (n.d.). Down syndrome facts. Retrieved from

4-5. National Down Syndrome Society. (n.d.). Myths & truths. Retrieved from

6. National Institutes of Health. (2017, September 26). Down syndrome. Retrieved from

7-11. National Down Syndrome Society. (n.d.). Down syndrome facts. Retrieved from

12. National Association for Down Syndrome. (n.d.). Facts about Down syndrome. Retrieved


*Picture retrieved from

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