Down Syndrome individuals can become productive members

Many affected Emiratis now work in agriculture, administration and handicrafts, say expert

16:23 March 20, 2017

Abu Dhabi: Despite their special needs, children born with Down Syndrome can grow up to become fully productive members of society, special needs professionals said in the capital on Monday.

In fact, dozens of Emirati children born with the condition now work in fields as varied as administration, sport, agriculture, tailoring and handicrafts in Abu Dhabi, said Salama Al Mazroui, head of intellectual and special needs education at the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs.

“Social acceptance of special needs individuals is slowly growing, and this includes acceptance and mainstreaming of children with Down Syndrome. It is only when people come in contact with these wonderful individuals that they realise their capacity for love and social contribution,” she added.

Al Mazroui was speaking on the sidelines of a community event ahead of World Down Syndrome Day, which is marked internationally on March 21 every year. Dozens of children with Down Syndrome put up a series of performances on the occasion, before participating in art workshops and other activities at the Yas Mall.

Down Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder caused by extra genetic material in chromosome 21. It is believed to occur when genetic materials fail to separate during egg or sperm formation, resulting in an extra chromosome (called trisomy 21). The risk of the disease increases with maternal age at conception.

The condition is associated with delayed growth, joint laxity and incomplete organ formation, mostly of the heart. Affected individuals also have flat faces, slanting eyes and large tongues relative to mouth size, and exhibit mild to moderate intellectual disability.

According to the World Health Organisation, the estimated incidence of Down Syndrome is about one in 1,000 live births worldwide, and each year about 3,000 to 5,000 children are born with the disorder. Among Emiratis, however, the incidence is higher, with about one in every 320 babies affected.

“We want the community to understand that these individuals have many talents, and that with proper training and therapy, their skills can be harnessed,” Al Mazroui said.

Omar Rasheed, a licensed physiotherapist who has been working with special needs individuals for a decade, said that Down Syndrome only affects cognitive functioning to a certain extent.

In fact, officials from the Dubai Health Authority earlier said that individuals affected with Down Syndrome have near-average IQs of 70. In comparison, most people have IQs between 90 and 110.

“In my experience, the children’s motor development is somewhat delayed, but they soon learn to become self-sufficient. The key is to treat them like regular individuals, especially as many of them have special abilities that can be honed,” Rasheed added.