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No. 54 (March 1966)
– 55 –

Psychologist Studying Mongolism (Down's Syndrome) in New Zealand

Mr Jack Share, M.A., an American psychologist specialising in the study of Down's syndrome (mongolism), is at present studying this condition in New Zealand.

Of every 600 children who are born, one will suffer from Down's syndrome, a condition caused by a genetical abnormality which results in mental retardation. Such children also have physical characteristics which are readily recognisable; among them are short and stubby fingers, an enlarged tongue, and slightly slanting eyes. This last characteristic gave rise to the term ‘mongolism’, but since the condition has nothing whatsoever to do with the Mongol race, this word is an unfortunate one, and most doctors now use the term Down's syndrome.

It is believed that amongst the Maori people there are, for some reason, almost no children suffering from this condition.

Mr Share is specially interested in the reported absence of Down's syndrome amongst Maori children. He says, ‘The reasons for this can only be guessed at present. Some imply that the few reported Maori cases are not representative of the actual numbers that may exist. Others say that this is a “Pakeha taint” found only when there is a strong introduction of “Pakeha blood”. Dietary habits and general living conditions may somehow influence the condition.

‘At any rate the questions and possibilities are many, and at present there is inadequate knowledge of some of these factors. It is possible that some of the findings of the present investigation may open yet other doors towards the eventual understanding of the causes and care of this condition.

‘At present genetical studies have provided the best clues to a better understanding of the problem, though most children with this condition are not born as the result of a hereditary trait. Among Pakehas, the occurrence of Down's syndrome varies according to the age of the mother; among women under the age of 30, about one child in 1500 will suffer from the condition, whereas the chances increase with age to about one in 70 among mothers aged 45.’

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Mr Jack Share

Mr Share is a member of an American research team which has been working on the problem for the last nine years. He says, ‘Much has already been discovered. We now suspect that children with Down's syndrome follow a pattern of development which approximates the normal distribution curve, but at a much slower rate of progress. They are often able to stand, walk, feed themselves and talk earlier than had been suspected. Much more can be done in helping them than has been thought.’

Mr Share is a senior lecturer in Education at Victoria University of Wellington, and Consulting Psychologist to the Division of Mental Health. He will be visiting different parts of the country in connection with the research project, which is concerned specifically with Maori and Pakeha children under the age of five. Literature and special consultations will, however, be available to all those interested. There is no fee attached, and for those families living well out of the Wellington area, arrangements will be made for a visit to the home. Further details may be obtained by writing to:

Mr Jack B. Share,

Down's Syndrome Research Project, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 196, Wellington.