What a difference a few decades makes. As recently as the 1940s, children born with Down syndrome were expected to live only to age 12. By the 1980s, life expectancy was about 25 years. Today, the average person with Down syndrome lives to be 60. Last year, Guinness World Records listed Kenny Cridge of England as the world’s oldest living person with Down syndrome.
Society, too, is catching up. Where attitudes once were often hurtful and based on ignorance, they now are increasingly accepting and knowledgeable. Where once babies diagnosed with Down syndrome were sent off to institutions, today they are mainstreamed in public school classrooms. And today, large retailers are embracing Down children in their advertising.
Walgreens drug store, for example, launched an Easter promotion last year featuring the angelic face of seven-year-old Grace Driscoll, a kindergartner from Chicago with Down syndrome. Grace appeared on signage in more than 8,000 Walgreens stores nationwide. It is one of the first times Walgreens has featured a model with a cognitive disability in its advertising. “We wanted this marketing campaign to be inclusive,” a Walgreens spokesman said. Walgreens joins a growing number of national brands including individuals with disabilities in their catalogs and advertisements.
Trisomy occurs when a baby develops with an extra chromosome in some or all of his or her cells. It is the result of cells not dividing properly, and the chromosomes don’t separate in pairs as they normally do, giving the baby an extra or third copy of a particular chromosome. Many trisomies result in miscarriage rather than live birth, and any chromosome can be affected. The most common live-birth trisomies involve chromosomes 18 and 21.
Trisomy 18 — also known as Edwards syndrome — occurs in about one in 2,500 pregnancies. Only half of these babies are born alive, and few will survive more than a few days. About 10% survive to their first birthday. There is no cure other than medical care to provide the best quality of life possible. Having a child with Edwards syndrome is devastating for parents and can be overwhelming. It is critical that these parents obtain support from organizations such as the Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society and the Trisomy 18 Foundation.
Trisomy 21 — also known as Down syndrome — is the most common and well-known form of trisomy. Occurring in about one out of 800 births, Down syndrome is characterized by intellectual delays and physical abnormalities that include a smaller head, a somewhat flattened nose, poor muscle tone, and slanted eyes. Down syndrome children have an average IQ of 50, compared with the average IQ of 100 in normal children.
March is Trisomy Awareness Month. Stories abound about Down children and adults who exceed expectations every day. Just like Kenny Cridge, who’s eating cake and living large.