top of page

Northland Down Syndrome Support Group

What is Down syndrome?

We have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our bodies. Down syndrome occurs when there is a third copy of chromosome 21, hence the medical name, Trisomy 21. A person who has Down syndrome is just like the rest of their family but the extra chromosome influences the genetic coding in their body. This causes a range of characteristics related to Down syndrome. However, not all people with Down syndrome share all these characteristics.


In 5% of people with Down syndrome, it is caused by translocation of material between chromosome 21 and another chromosome or may be mosaic Down syndrome where only some cells have 47 chromosomes. 


Around fifty babies are born in New Zealand each year with Down syndrome. Three or four of these babies are born here in Tai Tokerau Northland. While the chance of having a baby with Down syndrome increases with a mother's age, 75% of babies with Down syndrome are born to mothers under forty. Down syndrome occurs across all ethnicities.


Down syndrome causes delays in learning and development. This affects fine and gross motor skills, speech, and cognitive functioning - these may take longer to develop. The extent to which each person with Down syndrome is affected by this is different. And, like all of us, people with Down syndrome have their own personal strengths and individual talents. Around the world there are athletes, swimmers, dancers, figure skaters, actors, political activists and advocates, bakers, and business people - all with Down syndrome.


People with Down syndrome have an increased chance of experiencing health problems that include heart defects, hearing and vision difficulties, hypothyroidism, coeliac disease, reduced immunity, instability of the vertebrae in the neck, and early-onset dementia. Medical professionals are very knowledgeable about Down syndrome and, with the current excellent levels of medical care available, people with Down syndrome are living into their seventies. For information on guidance given to medical professionals working with people with Down syndrome in New Zealand, click here .


Education is the key to wellbeing for life, successful independent living, and a positive sense of self. In New Zealand, all children with Down syndrome are entitled to full inclusion in mainstream schools and ECE centres. The quality of education our children now receive is leading many on to great success at NCEA, tertiary education, and employment. For information on New Zealand's Ministry of Education inclusion policies and strategies, click here .


Research tells us that people with Down syndrome are very happy with themselves and with their lives and that parents and siblings of people with Down syndrome are much happier than the average family. Every year Down syndrome is celebrated -- and awareness of it raised -- on 21st March, World Down Syndrome Day and a global congress is held every two years bringing together leading researchers in the field of Down syndrome.

bottom of page