Down’s syndrome (mongolism) affects about one in 600 babies and causes certain physical characteristics and a wide range of mental subnormality. Some sufferers can lead near normal lives in the community as adults, whereas others need special care all their lives. Affected children are usually diagnosed soon after birth. They have small slanting eyes; there is a fold of skin at the inner corner of each eye; the head is small and round; the bridge of the nose is low; the mouth is small and straight; the little fingers are often curved inwards; and the hands have abnormal crease lines. In each cell of their body (except the sex) there are 47 chromosomes instead of 46; instead of having two number 21 chromosomes, there are three. For this reason, an alternative name for the disorder is trisomy 21.
With the most prevalent form of mongolism only the child’s chromosomes are deviated, and those of both parents are normal. The chance of a woman having such a child increases with age, from 32 per 10,000 births to women over 35 years of age to 205 per 10,000 in women over 45. Also, in some cases, one or both parents may show a deviation of chromosomes. This does not have to be seen in outward appearance. In this case the chance of repetition is greatly increased, and genetic consellors agree that the parents should then be informed. Most doctors recommend that women over the age of 30 years who decide to become pregnant should be screened for the possibility of genetic disorders and their pregnancy carefully monitored.
Most children with this disability go to a school equipped and staffed for special education. For them, education serves exactly the same purpose as for other children: the best possible development in all capacities that are latently present. The child has, for example, to be specifically taught how to cope socially, to associate with others, to travel by public transport, and how to handle money.
Society has come to recognize its responsibility to people with all types of disabilities, physical as well as mental. This is the basis of a modern, enlightened approach to the place of the individual in the community. Those sound in body and mind are encouraged to help to support those who are less able without the overprotection and overprovision that stifles independence and fosters overreliance. There are many types of physical handicap, including the inability to walk well or at all, as well as conditions such as deafness and visual problems.