Iman Saeed is eight years old with a smile larger than life itself.
In a recent photo shoot to promote a charity gala event for children with disabilities, she chose to wear a sparkly black shirt and a blue cape with blue cuffs. It was the perfect ensemble for a Superhero background. It also perfectly reflected her remarkable achievements as a child born with Down syndrome.
Her mother, Abeer Zuberi, says she was scared and worried about her daughter’s future when she first learned of the diagnosis before Iman was born. Down syndrome is a congenital condition caused by an extra chromosome and is often characterized by developmental delays, some impairment in cognitive functioning, short stature, upward slanting eyes, a flattened nasal bridge, broad hands with short fingers and decreased muscle tone. “Initially it was shock, grief and fear,” she says. “I didn’t know what was happening – but then she was my daughter and I loved everything about her.”
Iman attends public school with the support of a teacher’s assistant for half of the day. “She is integrated into the regular classroom,” says Zuberi, who has always advocated for her daughter to learn alongside other children, as opposed to being placed in a class exclusively for those with special needs.
She smiles as she recalls Iman taking the school bus on the first day of school and enjoying it immensely. “I was literally in the car behind the school bus. She didn’t cry – but I was crying.”
Today, Iman says her favourite subject is gym. “I like to play with my friends,” she tells me.
The Zuberi’s live in Mississauga with Iman’s maternal grandparents. Her grandmother Farhana provides much of the childcare for Iman and her two younger siblings while Zuberi is at work or school. She currently studies behaviourial sciences at Humber College in Toronto and works at the Erinoakkids Treatment Centre as an instructor therapist for children living with autism.
Farhana, meanwhile, says it is a joy being able to witness her granddaughter’s day-to-day progression. “I enjoy taking care of Iman,” she says. “She is getting more and more independent every day.”
Zuberi also attributes her daughter’s success and confidence to her active participation in SMILE, a charity aimed at supporting children and youth with special needs in Muslim communities across Canada. The superhero photo shoot Iman posed for last month was hugely exciting for her, she says, especially because the shoot was used to promote a gala dinner where she was asked to present on stage with her sister Asiya.
“Today I look at Iman as a blessing,” she says. “I always say I have a daughter who is gifted with Down syndrome. And whenever I ask her: “Iman are you beautiful?” she confidently replies, “Yes!”