About Down's Syndrome : History of Down’s Syndrome

The Victorian physician Dr John Langdon Down is best remembered for having, in 1866, identified a specific group of patients whose characteristics were similar in character. They had upward slanting eyes, flattening of the back of the head and poorly controlled and fissured tongues. Nobody had identified this special group previously, and over the next 20 years the word “Mongolian” was used to describe people we would now call people with Down’s syndrome.

In 1961 nineteen international experts, including his grandson Norman, wrote jointly to the Lancet suggesting the name should be changed to Down’s syndrome. At the request of the People’s Republic of Mongolia, the World Health Organisation adopted the recommendation in 1965 and Down’s syndrome was then to become a universally accepted descriptive term.

Normansfield in Teddington, south west London, was the home and institution Langdon Down and his family developed where a revolutionary and enlightened approach was developed for the care of people with learning disabilities. This included people with Down’s syndrome.

Normansfield is now home to the Down’s Syndrome Association, the Langdon Down Museum and Normansfield Theatre.

See below some recent articles of interest about Down’s syndrome in history.

The article Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France appeared in New Scientist. July 2014.

Down syndrome diagnosis at the Adoration of the Christ Child. is an article about a Sixteenth Century Flemish Nativity Painting which includes the depiction of Down’s syndrome.

In 1959, it was discovered that Down’s syndrome was a genetic condition that occurs as a result of an extra chromosome (chromosome 21). See the article Who really decoded Down’s syndrome?New Scientist April 2014.

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