Photographer Recreates Famous Paintings With Children With Down Syndrome

Albanian photographer Soela Zani recently teamed up with Down Syndrome Albania and director Emanuela Zaimi to create a stunning portrait series of local children inspired by a number of famous paintings.

Zani specializes in family photography, but she’s always been drawn to classic works, so this photo series was the perfect combination for her. Putting the project together was not easy, but Zani is ecstatic with the attention it’s received and the impact it’s had on the community.

“The message I want to share through this project is that every human is a piece of art, so we have to learn to see them in a beautiful way,” Zani told The Mighty in an email. “These children are beautiful, and they are able to do everything if we give them the chance.”

Eta as “Sister Tone” by Kol Idromeno (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Flavio as “The Fifer” by Edouart Manet (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Irma as “The Dancer” by Pierre Auguste Renoir (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Arbi as “Paulo as Harlequin” by Pablo Picasso (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Iris as “Gabrielle Arnault as a Child” by Louis-Léopold Boilly (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Marvin as “Master Bunbury” by Joshua Reynolds (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Irma as “Julie Manet” by Pierre Auguste Renoir (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Emiljano as “Boy and Rabbit” by Henry Raeburn (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Vanesa as “Harriet Ann Seale” by John Hoppner (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Krenardi as “The son of Man” by Rene Magrite (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Belkisa as “Clara Serena Rubens” by Peter Paul Rubens (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Gazi as “Mr Loulou” by Paul Gauguin (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Megi as “Miss Bowles” by Joshua Reynolds (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Eljana as “Child with dove” by Pablo Picasso (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Lela as “The Infant Samuel” by Joshua Reynolds (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Belkisa as “Las Meninas” by Diego Velasquez (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Irma as “Prima Ballerina” by Edgar Degas (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)
Vanesa as “Master John Heathcote” by Thomas Gainsborough (Image courtesy of Soela Zani)

For more photos, visit Soela Zani’s website and Facebook page.


To the People Who Say I Share Too Much About My Child Online

“You share too much about your daughter online.”

I know I overshare my daughter, Carly. It’s out of fear.

I share because people stare. As she’s gotten older, it’s become more and more real. She is looked at differently. At checkouts and restaurants. Everywhere in between. When she was younger, I think people didn’t notice as much. They do now.

I share because I want to end the ignorant remarks that she “suffers” from her Down syndrome and that her life isn’t worth living. You can see in every photo her unwavering smile. My child doesn’t suffer, she thrives. She has Down syndrome, but if she’s happy and loved, who is anyone to say she doesn’t have a right to life because she may never be an astrophysicist? What’s the metric here? Where’s the line that puts that life above hers? I think the people who say this are suffering from a lack of education, compassion and respect for their fellow man.

I share to show that my daughter contributes positivity to the world. She contributes pure joy and unconditional love, and I’d rather have her in my corner any day than someone who thumbs their nose at those they deem “less than.”

I share because I’m afraid my daughter will become what society expects of her. Right now, they expect very little, and it’s terrifying. I hear it time and time again. Evaluations, therapies, doctor appointments. “Well, that’s the Down syndrome.” So I share. Based on her evaluations, she can do little. She’s painfully shy, and she clams up around other people. They mistake her shyness for complete incompetence, and it’s used against us. “She doesn’t understand enough for speech therapy.” Meanwhile, here she is at home stringing three signs together and able to use a handful of words at 15 months. She understands.

I share to try to change that perception. People talk about her like she isn’t in the room. She hears. Those words are shaping her. Hearing “She can’t” and “She won’t ever” are the building blocks being laid out for her by professionals. It would be great if instead they said, “She may take a little more time to get the hang of…” or, “These are skills that will require a lot of practice.” I share because we’re already fighting for her right to be seen, to be educated, for her right to be heard, for her right just to be a little girl.

I share Carly with the world because I want the world to see her and challenge her. I assure you, I see the sparkle in her eyes. She will rise to the occasion.

I share because I want people to know her. I am afraid the world won’t see past her diagnosis. I’m afraid people will see her as a label and not a person.

I share because I still hear the word “retard” dropped on the daily. Yeah, I used to say it, too. And then I realized it hurt people, and just like that — I stopped. It’s not funny, and it’s marginalizing an entire group of people. If you can avoid it and use a word that doesn’t hurt, why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t require effort, just a thesaurus.

I share because I want my daughter to grow up in a more caring world. I won’t police the hate, but I will speak up loudly against it. I will counter it with everything I have. And I will continue to share my daughter so that for every one person using the word to bring her down, there are hundreds rallying behind her, lifting her up.

I share because I want people to get a glimpse of what Down syndrome is, and that it’s not scary. If you take the time to get to know my daughter, you’ll be able to look past it.

When I’m sharing her with you, I’m sharing my heart. So please, don’t take it lightly.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Opinions Fly About Man Who 'Chose' His Wife Over Sister With Down Syndrome

Actor/director Brian Donovan met his wife Tempany in 2005, and though they’ve been together for over ten years, he admits their marriage nearly fell apart before it could even begin. Donovan’s younger sister Kelly has Down syndrome, and in an article for called “I Almost Didn’t Get Married Because I Was Obsessed With My Sister,” he explained how the amount of time he spent with Kelly, and his inability to say no to her, proved to be a major point of contention in his romantic relationships.

Every winter, Kelly would fly from New York to Los Angeles and spend two months with him, during which she would sometimes sleep in his bed with him. Six months into his relationship with Tempany, she made it clear the sibling relationship was an issue.

Donovan wrote:

It was about six weeks into Kelly’s annual two-month visit when the elephant reared its head again, and Tempany uttered those fateful words: ‘I’m supposed to be your other half, but there’s already a half there.’

I knew we were in trouble. We sat in silence most of the night, afraid that what we said next might lead us further down the path of no return. Eventually Tempany softly said: ‘I need to know that I’ll be the other half someday. I need to trust that you would place my needs above Kelly’s if it ever came to that.’

After a session with a couple’s therapist one day, Tempany told him, “You need to choose.”

Donovan wrote:

I wish I could say a magic love wand cascaded over us and my wretched stomach subsided and I chose Tempany. But we all know life isn’t that simple. What I can tell you is the session was a wake-up call for both of us. It wasn’t easy, bone crunching at times, sprinkled with tears and sadness from all of us as I tried to fulfill the compromises Tempany had pleaded for. I gradually told Kelly ‘no’ more often and spoiled her less and less. I shortened her annual visits and made every effort to put Tempany’s needs first…

We still don’t have all the answers, but we continue to finds ways to compromise and embrace conditional love. And more important, Tempany became my other half by not forcing me to choose.

The reaction to Donovan’s piece has been mixed.

“Why can’t you ever say no to your sister?”

Posted by TIME on Wednesday, October 28, 2015


While some commenters on Time’s Facebook page were sympathetic (Raquel Ariaz wrote, “Unless you’ve been in Tempany’s same situation, you will never understand…”), many slammed Donovan for his decision to spend less time with his sister.

Karla Maria Novelo wrote, “Family is always first!!!!! Especially a bond like that,” while Dominique Vallee added, “A bit strange! Tempany, his wife, told him to choose and even insisted on it many times, as he repeats it in his narrative. And he concludes by telling she didn’t ask him to choose… It is contradictory! It must not be very clear in his mind!”

The Frisky went on to write an article lambasting Donovan for his apparent choice, going as far as to accuse him of abandoning his sister and giving in to his wife’s demands.

Here’s what we want to ask our Mighty readers: Have you ever been in a situation like Brian’s where you felt like you had to choose between a relationship and a family member with a disability or disorder? Tell us about it in the comment section below or email us a response at [email protected]

Ask My 3-Year-Old If His Sister With Down Syndrome Is Different Than He Is

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 11.04.22 AM Recently, I had the opportunity to take my 3-year-old son Michael on his very first field trip. It was your usual fall preschool excursion, complete with a pumpkin patch, hayride and of course… the boo barn. It was tons of fun for Mommy and her little man. On our way back to the car, we ran into a group from another school. The students at this school have various disabilities. Most are nonverbal and non-mobile, many use wheelchairs or specialty strollers. Like any curious 3-year-old, Michael began asking questions.

“Mommy, why does that boy like me have wheels on his chair like that?”

I immediately responded with, “Well, buddy, sometimes, children and grown-ups have difficulty walking and they need some help to get around so they use wheelchairs.”

“Like when me and Ava get tired of walking and you and Daddy carry us?”

“Exactly, Michael, but it’s all the time.”

“OK, Mommy.”

At the end of this 30-second conversation, the aide pushing the little boy in the wheelchair in front of us turned around and said, “Thank you, buddy, for asking such a great question. It’s always nice to ask questions. We usually don’t get that. We usually just get stares.”

Obviously, that statement went over his 3-year-old head, but it stuck in mine the entire way home.

As a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I’m no stranger to stares. However, most of my stares are followed by, “Look at that beautiful red hair!” or “Well, aren’t you the cutest thing!” It’s not usually what I fear the most. It saddens me though, that some children cannot go on something so simple as a field trip without being stared at. They cannot feel the warm October sunshine on their face or hold their prize pumpkin without being labeled as different. It saddens me that, for whatever reason, some adults cannot embrace the similarities we all have and don’t teach their children that different is beautiful.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 11.04.57 AM Children are naturally curious; they ask questions. So often when they ask a question that’s uncomfortable for the adult, such as “Why is that child in a wheelchair?” or “What is Down syndrome?” they’re hushed or told “We’ll talk about it later.” Sometimes later never comes, and instead of it being a learning experience, children come to fear the unknown and label it as bad. This is where stigmas start.

My daughter Ava was 19 months old when Michael was born. She doesn’t remember a time when he did not exist. When Ava had in-home therapy, Michael was there. When Ava said her first word, he was sitting right beside her. When Michael started to crawl, Ava was butt-scooting next to him. When Michael took his first steps, Ava, not to be out done, took hers as well. To Michael, there’s no difference. He doesn’t see Down syndrome. He sees Ava, his sister. She’s the one who takes his toys and tries to mother him when he falls down. She’s the one who he draws pictures for. She’s the one he chases down the hall in the morning when they should be brushing their teeth. She’s his cuddle buddy. She’s the one who wakes up early on the weekends so she can pick which show she wants to watch first. She’s the one who will play endless games of Spider-Man with him and never once complain. He’s her best friend and biggest cheerleader.

If you ask him if he thinks Ava is different than he is, his response would be, “Yes, Ava is a girl and I am a boy.” 

It’s as simple as that.

Follow this journey on Ava’s T21 Foundation.

People With Down Syndrome Write Life-Changing Letters to New Parents

Often times, when a child is born with Down syndrome, doctors accompany the news with an “I’m sorry.” They may throw out a bunch of facts, figures and medical jargon, creating one, big overwhelming experience for a new parent. It’s certainly not the way to welcome a new life into the world.

So what’s the right thing to tell a new parent of a child with Down syndrome? How about “Congratulations”?

At Camp PALS, a camp for young adults with Down syndrome, campers are participating “The Congratulations Project,” an initiative where people with Down syndrome and their loved ones write letters to new members of the Down syndrome community.

In these letters, campers offer encouragement, inspiration and congratulations to new parents and siblings.

Here are just a few of the wonderful letters:




Justin’s letter reads:

Dear parents,

Congratulations on your new baby! My name is Justin G. and I am a camper at Camp PALS. In the future, I want to become a scientist. I love my life because I get to hang out with my best friend Sean!

Sincerely, Justin

P.S. This baby is going to be the best thing that ever happens to you.

Taylor_G_2014 Taylor_G2_2014

Taylor’s letter reads:

Dear parent,

Congratulations on your new baby. My name is Taylor G., and I am a camper at Camp PALS Dallas. I am proud of my good grades and being a good aunt. I like to hang out with my boyfriend and friends. 1) I am good at dancing and singing. 2) In the future I would like to get married and have one child. I also would like to become a teacher. 3) Good luck with your baby. Don’t be scared. Be happy because they are going to be great and successful.

You I love,


Megan_W_D2014 Megan_W2_D2014

Megan’s letter reads:

Dear parent,

Congratulations on your new baby. My name is Megan W. I am 21 years old. I am a camper at Camp PALS. Your new baby will be beautiful. The new baby will love you because I love my parents. I have Down syndrome. I have a great life. Some things I enjoy are music and ice skating. I graduated high school and now I have a job. I work at the Broadway Center and make money. When your baby is older they should go to Camp PALS. Your baby will have a wonderful life like mine. Please don’t be scared. Down syndrome is amazing.

Love you,


Blake_W_C Blake_W2_C


Blake’s letter reads:

Dear parent,

Congratulations on your new baby. My name is Blake, and I am a camper at Camp PALS. I like to watch and play sports like basketball, football, and hockey. In the future I want to help others and start my own business. I love my life because I have a great loving family and I love my sister in law. I wish you luck on your new baby. YOu are all going to have a greta life together.




Jocelyn’s letter reads:

Dear parent,

Congratulations. My name is Jocelyn. I am happy you are having a baby like me. I want to be a doctor. I have Down syndrome. I am Spanish. I like to play games and sing. Love camp. I dance a lot.



PALS hopes to keep expanding until one day this message reaches every new parent of a child with Down syndrome.

Check out more on The Congratulations Project in the video above:

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

The Doctor Didn't Follow Protocol After Our Down Syndrome Diagnosis

Going to the self-help section of any bookstore is rough. You go because you have something that needs fixing, right? So you’re pretty excited because you’ve committed to at least this part of the process. Then the books like “Overcome Your BIGGEST Fears!” begin to pop out at you. You know if you just read these books, you too will achieve that success and overcome your biggest challenges. But after a few weeks of reading and a lack of quick improvement, you’re either back where you started or in an even worse place.

The big words in these book titles sell you on them, but I don’t believe they’re based in our realities. I believe they create an unrealistic expectation that might actually end up being worse for the person facing a major challenge or “mountain” in life.

When we had our son, Henry, over six years ago, we were faced with our biggest “mountain.” Henry has Down syndrome. It’s an impossible task to explain how a parent feels when they first hear the news. When Henry arrived, we didn’t know he had Down syndrome. We asked the question immediately after delivery because a previous ultrasound indicated that he might. The doctors and nurses assured us there was nothing to indicate he did, but they would do a blood test to be sure. They added they were 90 percent sure he didn’t. With that, we felt some relief and enjoyed holding and snuggling this beautiful new boy.

Our pediatrician arrived within a few hours to check Henry out. We had never met this woman, since we had only been in this town for nine months. She looked Henry over, handed him back and said, “Well, I am about 80 percent sure your son has Down syndrome…” 

As our hearts descended into the pits of our stomachs and tears began to well up, she added these words: “…and that is awesome!”

We looked up, confused, as she turned around her laptop and opened it up. She showed us pictures of her daughter who has Down syndrome — a beautiful young girl, 5 years old in pigtails, playing soccer, cheering and seemingly having a blast in life. A slight smile began to invade our shell-shocked state.

This was the first time we realized our mountain was being minimized — not overcome, because we both still had a ways to go to fully understand and accept this, but minimized. We also began to believe that perhaps this choice of pediatricians was not so random, and that she was meant to be in our lives. We still have a close relationship with our pediatrician. She has given us guidance and understanding we feel we wouldn’t have received elsewhere within our community.

In the days, weeks, months and even years ahead, I began to look back at our process of acceptance. I noticed so many times and ways we minimized our mountain. They came in different forms and at different times. There was never a single moment, but many amazing, wonderful moments. It came in the meals our friends made for us, educating ourselves thoroughly, the local Down syndrome support group providing a gift basket, meeting other parents in our situation, getting to know people with special needs and so much more.

To this day, I have not nor do I wish to “overcome” having a child with special needs. That initial mountain of ours has become the greatest thing that ever happened to us. Henry has inspired all of us, and it’s hard to express the love and happiness he provides each day. We minimized our mountain so we could manage the hill, and we found a way to come out stronger and happier on the other side.

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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