Myths, Misconceptions, and Facts about Down Syndrome

Girl (10-12) with Down syndrome using computer in computer lab, children in background
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Parenting a child with Down syndrome has its challenges. Don't let beliefs in faulty information misinform you. Here are some common misconceptions about Down syndrome and the facts you need to set people straight on the realities.

Myths and Facts

MYTH: Down Syndrome is a rare disorder.

FACT: Down syndrome is not rare. About 1 in every 700 babies is born with Down syndrome and more than 6000 babies are born with Down syndrome in the US each year.

Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 350,000 individuals with Down syndrome in the United States.

MYTH: Most children with Down syndrome are born to older parents.

FACT: More than 80% of babies with Down syndrome are born to women under the age of 35, and the average age of a mother of an infant with Down syndrome is 28 years.

MYTH: Down syndrome is not treatable.

FACT: While there is no cure for Down syndrome, there are many treatments available for the problems associated with Down syndrome.

MYTH: People with Down syndrome have severe mental disabilities.

FACT: Most people with Down syndrome have only mild to moderate mental retardation. Individuals with Down syndrome have IQ scores of 30 to 60, but much variation exists. More important than IQ scores is the fact that all individuals with Down syndrome are capable of learning.

MYTH: Children with Down syndrome must be placed in separate special education programs.

FACT: Most children with Down syndrome in the United States are “mainstreamed” into regular schools. They attend regular classes for some subjects and attend special classes for other subjects. Each school system is required to provide the best learning environment possible for all special needs children.

MYTH: People with Down Syndrome will live at home forever.

FACT: A large percentage of adults with Down syndrome live semi-independently in assisted living facilities and group homes. Adults with Down syndrome often hold jobs and have romantic relationships.

MYTH: People with Down syndrome are always happy.

FACT: People with Down syndrome experience a full range of emotions such as sadness, anger, and happiness, just like everyone else.

MYTH: Individuals with Down syndrome die young.

FACT: The average life expectancy of an individual with Down syndrome is now 50 years of age.

MYTH: People with Down syndrome are all the same.

FACT: Just as any two people are different, any two people with Down syndrome are different, too. Certain physical characteristics are shared among people with Down syndrome, such as an upward crease of the eyes, short stature, and poor muscle tone; however, not all people with Down syndrome share these physical traits.

Who Discovered Down Syndrome?

For centuries others have recognized that certain people have what we today refer to as Down syndrome. However, it wasn't until the nineteenth century when the eponymous English physician John Langdon Down published a detailed medical description of this condition.

Specifically, Dr. Down recognized that people with Down syndrome share some common characteristics, such as short stature, poor muscle tone, eyes with an upward slant and a crease in the palms. Before this robust characterization, there was no consensus diagnosis for Down syndrome. Diagnosing a condition or disease is the first step on the road to treatment.


Cunningham, C. (1999). Understanding Down Syndrome: An Introduction for Parents (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

Stray-Gunderson, Karen. Babies with Down Syndrome: A New Parents' Guide Woodbine House. 1995

Adapted from "Myths about Down Syndrome" National Down Syndrome Society.