Growing up with a handicapped sibling has changed my life. Knowing the responsibility first hand of raising a disabled person, I certainly did not want to bring a child with a disability into this world. It has always been a concern of mine and has affected my decision on whether or not to have children.
Some disabilities can not be managed, such as Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and some forms of brain damage, but having a child with Down syndrome can be avoided. Down syndrome occurs in 1 out of 800 births each year and is the most frequent genetic cause of mild to moderate retardation. It involves an extra chromosome 21 (trisomy 21). Characteristics are associated with mental retardation, facial appearance and poor muscle tone.
Caused by a genetic condition related to chromosome 21, it is usually not inherited, but rather a result of a random event that occurs during the formation of the reproductive cells. Yet, there is one exception where Down syndrome is caused by balanced translocation, where material from chromosome 21 gets stuck to another chromosome, either prior to or at conception.
Balanced translocation can be inherited when one of the parents is a balanced carrier of the translocation. If a parent passes on this translocated chromosome, along with a normal chromosome 21, the child will develop Down syndrome. Not all parents of individuals with translocation trisomy 21 are themselves balanced carriers. Genetic testing can be sought to find the origin of the translocation.
With women waiting longer to have children, the risk of having a Down syndrome baby is a real concern. Age does play a role here in increasing the chances of having a Down syndrome child. Other risks include, already having a Down syndrome child and being a carrier of a balanced translocation.
The Down syndrome population is living much longer, with many reaching fifty years old and beyond. The responsibility of care is a life-changing experience for the entire family. Getting genetic testing is recommended for these high risk groups.