How would you feel if a doctor told you that your child might not ever be able to tie their own shoelaces?
My parents heard exactly that from a doctor, when I was three years old, and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Some years later, I was also found to have Asperger’s Syndrome.
However, my parents refused to believe the doctor. They treated me like any other child — not a person with any disability. They encouraged me to chase my dreams, while supporting and loving me unconditionally.
And yes, I have dreams, just like everyone.
What we do with our free time is not so different. While I was a student in a special school in Manila, I took on leadership roles and got involved in community efforts to help alleviate poverty in the Philippines.
One of my proudest achievements is helping to lead the formation of a unified basketball team in my school, comprising people with and without disabilities. Seeing our team play together reinforced my belief that people with disabilities are not so different after all.
My desire to live life to the fullest and my love for sports eventually led me to join the Special Olympics Philippines as an athlete in 2006. During the Special Olympics National Games in Pangasinan, I brought home my first Gold medal in badminton. It was an amazing feeling to be part of a national competition and win. I then went on to represent my country in the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China.
I even became the Captain of my country’s Special Olympics badminton team, which was beyond my wildest dreams.
I set my sights further. During the 2009 Special Olympics Youth Summit in Idaho, USA, I had the honor of being the first Global Youth Ambassador to represent the Philippines. It was a fantastic experience for me to see youth leaders from all over the world come together with a common purpose: to discuss ideas for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. It was also the first time I got to interact and connect with other Global Youth Ambassadors, and it fortified my desire to close the perceived gap between people with intellectual disabilities and those without.
I firmly believe that the best way to show that we are not limited by our disabilities was to lead by example. Beyond participating in sports, I decided that I should also give back to my own community and volunteer with Special Olympics Philippines. I help to organize events, coach budding athletes in badminton, and share my story at public events.
I am also passionate about my job. One year ago, I was delighted to accept a position in the Human Resource department at a global financial firm.
Despite securing a job, I believe that one should never stay stagnant and so, I recently applied for a scholarship program in graphic design at a private academy. I am positive that the program will allow me to hone my design and photography skills.
While I have many dreams about my future, I also believe that a dream remains a dream till one decides to act. I am hopeful that that my story will help to inspire others to step up and promote inclusivity in the community. Every little bit counts, and I am glad to do my part.
What I would like to say is this – If you have a dream, don’t be afraid to go for it. Believe in yourself, follow your heart, and shut out the naysayers. Never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough.
After all, a doctor said that I might not be able to tie my own shoelaces, but look where I am now.