Down Syndrome Characteristics, Effects and Treatment

child with down syndrome characteristics

Guide to learning about Down syndrome characteristics, including cognitive, behavioral and physical. Children with DS tend to have very distinctive features that make identifying this disorder relatively easy, but their are different types that make the set of symptoms different from one child to the next.  

The most common type, referred to as Non-disjunction or Trisomy 21, occurs in approximately 95% of those diagnosed and usually has more of the obvious Down syndrome effects that we are familiar with.

In addition to the traits listed below, children will often have a variety of down syndrome characteristics that include medical conditions as well as a mild to moderate cognitive disability characterized by slower learning. However, the significance of symptoms will vary in each child.

Treatment typically involves responding to the medical conditions and providing positive supports for any behavioral/cognitive challenges. There has also been promising evidence of using nutritional interventions as  that has shown to improve and prevent many of the associated characteristics.

Down syndrome physical characteristics:

  • Shorter than average
  • Prominent bags or folds under the eyes, epicanthic fold
  • Hypotonia or weak muscles in the body
  • Eyes that angle upwards
  • Short and broad neck, stout arms and legs
  • Transverse plamar crease – single crease across the center of the palms
  • Undersized ears set lower on the face
  • Forehead that is taller and wider than usual
  • Flat nasal bridge between the nose and eyes
  • Undersized mouth and head
  • Brushfield’s spots on the colored part of the eye that do not affect the child’s vision
  • Distended tongue
  • Dental problems due to teeth coming in late or in uncommon order.

Possible effects on behavioral characteristics:

Although, many children with Down syndrome characteristics have a warm and friendly disposition, the result of these symptoms may lead to undesirable behaviors including:

  • Aggression
  • Self Abuse
  • Refusing to comply with requests 
  • Picky eating

As a result there are some individuals that may require positive behavior supports. For example, a child with a language delay that is aggressive when trying to communicate wants/needs may benefit from the use of a picture exchange communication system or implementing sticker charts to encourage/motivate positive behaviors and reduce refusals.

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are also helpful in dealing with sensory issues or slow physical development. Many children can do very well when these treatments are used in conjunction with behavioral interventions. 


1. Cauldwell, K. (2006). Down Syndrome Information: Characteristics of Down Syndrome. 10-11-10.

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