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Sarah Palin's newborn puts Down syndrome in spotlight

September 2, 2008 |  4:01 pm

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with husband Todd and son Trig in April.

As prenatal genetic testing has become more widespread, disabilities rights activists have grown concerned that children like 4-month-old Trig Palin will become an increasing rarity. Trig is the son of presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and he has Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that affects about one in 800 babies born alive in the United States each year. A 1999 study found that 90% of women  who learn their baby has the genetic abnormality chose to end the pregnancy.

But parents of children with Down syndrome have grown increasingly vocal about their choice to give birth to their babies, and to share the challenges and rewards of raising a child with a disability. See, for example, Family Village. With one in every 33 children born in the United States having some birth defect causing lifelong disability, a community also has sprung up to share information on the wide range of federally mandated educational programs and social services available to families.

Pediatric practitioners see it as particularly important that parents like Sarah and Todd Palin seek out and secure services quickly for their children with disabilities, since early intervention can be crucial to improving the function of those with Down syndrome. One study probing the effectiveness of early intervention found that a two-month delay in treatment was associated with lower gross motor, fine motor, language and social outcomes by the time the baby reached 18 months. Another study showed that newborns with Down syndrome who received immediate language intervention had better language development than those who didn't get it until 3 months or 6 months of age.

Palin's decision to give birth to her son Trig already has made her a popular choice among anti-abortion activists. She now becomes a highly visible parent of a disabled child. Her turn in the spotlight already has autism activists questioning whether the Palins will have Trig vaccinated.  That question comes out of evidence that having Down syndrome may put an infant at greater risk of autism, and out of lingering but unproven fears that the preservatives in vaccines may cause autism. (See:  How will Sarah Palin vaccinate her son Trig?)

More links to sites aimed at parents of children with disabilities are:

National Assn. for Down Syndrome

Family Voices

National Parent Network on Disabilities (NPND)

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)

T.A. Alliance for Parents (PACER Center)

-- Melissa Healy 

Photo: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with husband Todd and son Trig in April. Photo credit: Al Grillo / Associated Press   

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