What causes Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is a chromosomal anomaly. In most cases it is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 being present in all of the body’s cells (more rarely, other variations of this chromosomal pattern can occur, called Translocation and Mosaicism). There is no known reason for this and no one is to blame. It happens at conception and the occurrence of Down syndrome has not been linked to any activities before or during pregnancy.

Are babies born with Down syndrome only born to older mothers?

Statistically the chances of having a child with Down syndrome will increase with maternal age however around 70% of babies with Down syndrome are born to mothers under thirty-five, with 20% of these to mothers under twenty-five years old. This is simply because more children overall are being born to mothers in these younger age groups.

Are there levels or degrees of Down syndrome?

In short - no. A diagnosis of Down syndrome refers to the presence of the additional full or partial copy of chromosome 21. There is, however, a great range of abilities and features between individuals and this is where the confusion around 'levels' or 'degrees' may come in. Some of these characteristics may use classifying terms (like mild, moderate and severe) in which case it is important to reference the characteristic specifically eg. 'She has a mild intellectual impairment' rather than 'she has mild Down syndrome' (which is inaccurate). Interestingly, no one with Down syndrome shows all the physical signs of the condition and, as with all people, their physical characteristics give no indication to their intellectual capabilities. This means we can't make any predictions about things like intellectual impairment or developmental delay based on the physical characteristics of a baby. 

Do people with Down syndrome all look alike?

While there are some physical features of Down syndrome that people may share, they have far more physical and personality characteristics in common with their families. Children with Down syndrome are more like other children than different. 

Why do they say that people with Down syndrome are always happy?

People with Down syndrome are just like everyone else - which means they are not always happy!  They can also be sad, angry, scared, joyful and excited. Their feelings can be hurt, or they can enjoy fun in social settings, just like their peers.

Why do people with Down syndrome appear childlike?

Children with Down syndrome don't remain as children, but go through stages of wanting independence and relationships as they grow up into teenagers and beyond. It just takes a little longer and they may need some extra consideration and support to navigate their development. Sexuality can be a difficult topic for parents but with appropriate education and support adults with Down syndrome can form relationships and some choose to marry. 

Can people with Down syndrome live independently?

Independent living is becoming more common for adults with Down syndrome. Learning the skills required is an important first step but with improvements in education, opportunities and most importantly, community attitudes, more adults are living independently with varying levels of support. 

How long are people with Down syndrome expected to live?

In the past, people with Down syndrome had a shorter life expectancy due to inadequate access to health care and community services. Thanks to advances in medical diagnosis and treatment and, most significantly, major changes to societal attitudes, people with Down syndrome are living long, meaningful and fulfilled lives.

For further information and support, please contact the team at Down Syndrome NSW: 02) 9841 4444 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.