Kids' Health
Visit website  
Home › Topics › Your Family > 

Down syndrome

down; downs; down's; syndrome; mental; physical; development; delay; disability; sibling; family; mentally; challenged; intellectual; retardation;


What is Down syndrome?

Down Syndrome
Some people who have problems with development have Down Syndrome. Dr John Langdon Down is the first person to have identified this syndrome in 1866.

As a doctor he worked in a hospital where there were many patients who were slow with their development.


What does it look like?

Dr Down noticed that most, but not all, people with Down syndrome looked alike, with:

  • slanting eyes
  • a wide space between their eyes
  • a small, flat nose
  • short fingers, hands, toes and feet
  • short arms and legs.

People with Down syndrome have some of these other problems:

  • Down Syndromean intellectual disability, which means it takes longer for them to learn and understand
  • problems learning to talk
  • problems with vision
  • more likely to get ear infections
  • 'stuffed up' noses - they seem to have a bad cold for a lot of the time
  • heart problems
  • poor coordination skills.

In the 'olden days', some kids with Down syndrome didn't live very long because of all the problems that they had.

Nowadays doctors can do many things to help people. Medicines and surgery can help kids with Down syndrome live healthier, longer lives.

How do you get it?

Down SyndromeYou cannot catch Down syndrome. You are either born with it or you are not.

  • Everyone has DNA. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes. Half come from the mum and half from the dad.
  • Each pair is numbered, from 1 to 23.
  • In Down syndrome there is an extra chromosome, with (usually) number 21 having 3 chromosomes instead of 2.
  • Because children are born with Down syndrome, there is no cure.

Down syndrome at school

  • Many kids with Down syndrome can go to regular school, so long as they get some extra help in the classroom.
  • Others may go to a special school where they can learn to live independent lives when they are old enough to live away from home.

A kid with Down syndrome may look a bit different, but can still share chores, go to school, play sport and have friends just like anyone else.

Helping your sibling

If your sibling (brother or sister) has Down syndrome, then there are some things you can do to help.

  • Be patient. Your sibling will take longer to learn things or understand things.
  • You could help her to learn to read and write by listening to her practising, and encouraging her to try.
  • Down SyndromeYou could encourage her to speak clearly.
  • You could help her learn skills like playing with a ball.
  • You can be kind and understand that everyone has feelings.
  • You can praise her when she does well.
  • You can tell her calmly when she has done something which hurts your feelings or your things.
  • You can show her how to do something, then let her copy each small step until she can do it, eg making the bed, tying shoelaces.

Having someone with a disability in the family can be very challenging at times. They can take up much of the time, energy and attention of everyone else.

You might find the topic Having a disabled child in the family useful.

You also need to look after yourself.

  • Understand that it is okay for you to have your own times with mum and dad and your own friends.
  • You could work out with your parents some rules around the house - eg. your private space and your private stuff, his private space and his private stuff - so that you respect each other.

    Down Syndrome 

  • It's OK for you to have your own friends that you don't have to share all the time.
  • It's OK for you to have your own sports and interests too.

How you can help a class mate

If someone in your class at school has Down syndrome then you can help by:

  • being friendly
  • helping when they need help. But, don't take over! It's good to be able to do things for yourself.
  • including them in your group or games, if they want to join in.
  • sticking up for them if others are bullying or being unkind.
  • helping them to learn the rules, eg. "It's my turn next then it will be yours again." Or "You have to put your hand up if you want to speak in a class lesson."
  • encouraging them to try, and praising when they do well.
  • understanding that they may be a bit 'over the top' at times when they are happy or excited. It's ok to say things like, "Whoa there, don't knock me over" or "Talk quietly please."
  • being clear that 'bad behaviour', eg. shouting, hitting, throwing things or taking things without permission is not okay from anyone especially a friend.

What some kids say

"At my school there was a special unit for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities. They were adults really but they seemed younger. They made things in craft classes. Our teacher organised for us to go in groups and make things with their class.

 I was a bit worried at first but it was great! They were so good at doing their crafts, they showed us and helped us and we became friends. They were really proud of us when we had made our baskets out of reeds and then decorated them. All the people in our class went. None of us had been near people who had a disbility before. It was a good experience".  Talia

Dr Kim says

Dr KimSome of us have to work much harder than others just to cope with every day living.

Nowadays there are many more kids with physical or mental disabilities who are able to go to a regular school and hang out with regular kids. 

Get to know them and respect them. We are all different.

If someone in your family has Down syndrome then this link can give you and your parents more information about activites, support groups and events.

Famous Aussie people with Dowm Syndrome:

  • Michael Cox - part of the medal winning Down syndrome down under swimming team.
  • Madeline Stuart - model  

When you were really small
and the world was really new
Your days were filled with wonder,
with love and caring too.
Growing up can change us
bringing joy and tears,
changing our perceptions
and introducing fears.
Try to keep the wonder,
the love and caring too
when you meet someone who's 'different'.
Inside they're just like you.


back to top

We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


Home › Topics › Your Family >