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Down syndrome is the single most common form of genetically-based mental retardation. The syndrome occurs when the fetal cell development process creates an extra chromosome, resulting in profound abnormalities in physical and neurological developments. In the United States, over 4000 children annually are born with Down syndrome, effecting roughly 1 in every 900 births, making it one of the most common genetic birth defects.
While a definitive diagnosis of Down syndrome must be carried out at the chromosomal level, there are many physical traits and attributes that, taken together, can lead to a probable identification of the syndrome. The physical characteristics alone are numerous, including short, broad hands and feet, slanting eyes, flattened nose appearance, small, low-set ears, small head, small mouth and oral cavity, and a short neck.
Intellectually, children and adults with Down syndrome occupy a broad spectrum of functionality. The earlier that a positive diagnosis is made, the sooner that parents can begin using all available resources to engage the child in structured activities that have been designed to expand cognitive, social, emotional, and intellectual capacity.
In recent years, a number of studies have gauged the most effective instructional environments and techniques that can be used to foster learning and meaningful interaction among students with Down syndrome. While these findings have varied considerably according to the specific method or curricular subject being studied, one consistent recommendation remains fairly common.