Teenagers with Down syndrome experience many of the same emotional and hormonal changes as their peers. Their teenage years can also offer the opportunity to expand their functional and social skills.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Down syndrome is the most commonly diagnosed chromosomal condition. It affects approximately 6,000 babies each year in the United States.

If you’re involved in raising a teenager with Down syndrome, you may have questions about navigating this unique developmental stage. While there’s no substitute for discussions with your teenager’s doctors, here’s some information about what teenagers with Down syndrome may expect.

Learn more about Down syndrome.

Individuals with Down syndrome go through puberty during their teenage years like other children their age, but those with Down syndrome may also experience unkindness from peers due to their cognitive and behavioral differences.

Like all teenagers, those with Down syndrome may need help learning to express and process their feelings. Adults can help by watching for bullying or mistreatment.

Although it’s very rare, some teenagers and young adults with Down syndrome may develop a condition called Down syndrome regression disorder. This is when they experience a regression, or a loss of some functional skills.

It’s not known what causes this, but experts have proposed that it may happen after an acute emotional stressor or event or be the result of an inflammatory process.

The teenage years offer the opportunity for people with Down syndrome to continue expanding their social and behavioral skills.

Children with Down syndrome can continue to grow in their independence during their teenage years as they go through puberty and begin to enter the workplace.

Additional attention and instruction may be necessary for teenagers with Down syndrome in certain areas, including the following.

Daily living skills, including personal hygiene and cooking

According to one 2013 study, 60% of 16- to 19-year-olds with Down syndrome had mastered at least some of the skills necessary for independent living, including the ability to bathe regularly and prepare breakfast for themselves.

Parents and guardians may need to offer reminders, assistance, and additional training in these skills as they encourage their teenager with Down syndrome to become more independent.

Family dynamics, social skills, and friends

Up to 90% of people with Down syndrome have some difficulties with social functions, according to the same 2013 research. This can affect their relationships with friends and family during their teenage years.

Additionally, some research indicates that individuals with Down syndrome are more likely to have behavioral problems than their peers. Maturity differences may also make it difficult to relate to their fellow teenagers.

Living skills outside the home, including making purchases and managing their time

Many people with Down syndrome have difficulty developing the skills necessary for life in the bigger society. The same 2013 study also determined that less than 10% of participants were able to do things like pay in a store.

Without these skills, it’s very difficult for individuals with Down syndrome to live independently. Parents and guardians of teenagers with Down syndrome can look for programs or therapies that focus on teaching them as well as opportunities to practice them.

Resources for teenagers with Down syndrome

The following organizations may help teenagers with Down syndrome and their families find resources:

  • The National Down Syndrome Society offers resources for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
  • The National Down Syndrome Congress provides a searchable registry of local organizations for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
  • Best Buddies highlights life skill, social, and career programs for adolescents and adults with Down syndrome and similar conditions in 50 states and 49 countries.
  • GiGi’s Playhouse offers career development programs in over 50 locations across the United States.
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Romantic relationships and sexual education

Many people with Down syndrome have a desire for romantic relationships, including marriage and children. It’s important for adults to offer guidance about sexual health, sexuality, and consent during the teenage years to help prevent sexual misunderstandings, abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies.

Effective sexual education for teenagers with Down syndrome should focus on positive decision making and social skills, as well as how reproduction works.

Working skills

Individuals with Down syndrome may need additional training in workplace skills as well as assistance with job placement. Local community organizations may be able to help with this.

Driving

Those with Down syndrome can drive if they can pass the necessary written and practical exams. The ability and time required to do this will vary on a case-by-case basis.

People with Down syndrome may live fulfilling, independent lives into their 60s and 70s. While some do have complex learning and physical disabilities, the outlook for most teenagers with Down syndrome is promising.

Although teenagers with Down syndrome experience many of the same challenges as their peers, there are some additional considerations for the adults helping raise these individuals.

Parents and guardians of teenagers with Down syndrome can find additional support through local and national organizations. Your child’s doctor may also have referrals for you.