Change the Way You See Friendship with Special People

Have you ever wondered how a 'differently-abled' individuals see friendship? Can we, in fact, even maintain a realistic relationship with them?

This was something that crossed my mind recently when I attended the Center for Possibilities special premier of "Yakap," a story of three families embracing the realities of supporting a loved one with Special Needs.  The stories of Gelli, Jake and AJ in Yakap has touched my heart. The movie encouraged embracing life both in times of joy and in times of difficulties, with love and gratefulness.
Photo taken 2015 Nasugbu Batangas

A Special Friendship

I cried watching the film as I myself is a "friend" to my tita whom I have lived with since I was a kid. Despite her special situation, she was my most charming tita who I can confide with my problems in life.

She usually just stays quiet, but her generous smile uplifts my spirit despite the difficulties of life; whatever they may be. She might not be able to give me the best advise in the world, but hers was the most heartfelt one, with the most innocent view of life.

Allow me to share my personal experience living with a special individual who has changed the way I see people with disabilities.

Building Friendship with a Differently-Abled Person

People growing up with a learning disability often feel a sense of embarrassment. Sadly, these feeling of embarrassment often leads the individual to hide their feelings. This is usually the reason why their families would keep them at home, away from the pinning and judgemental public eyes.

But such is not the case with my Aunt Charito, she changed the way I see people with special needs, including my other relatives.

Even when I was a kid, I already knew there's something special about her. At a young age, we shared a lot of similarities but she's physically stronger than I am. The only remarkable feature anyone would notice about her is her difficulty on processing speech and motor coordination, aside from the fact that she oftentimes acts like a child.

I still remembered our grandmother telling us that she is a "yellow baby", an inborn state caused by blood incompatibility. My lolo had blood Type O while lola has blood Type AB. This is what they call ABO incompatibility in pregnancy.

An old photo taken in the 90s. (L-R) my brother, Aunt Charito, my sister Tina, me, and grandma Violeta
Despite her condition, Aunt Charito went to school and finished a Library Science course in college, to the surprise of most people.

She wanted to become a librarian back then. Her siblings, my other titas and titos, told us she had many friends.

She even had a boyfriend! :)

Aunt "Ato", for short, was also fashionable. Now in her 50s, she would still dress-up and wear very light makeup attending Sunday mass.

the genuine smile of aunti Charito (Photo taken September 2016)

6 Lessons I Learned from my Aunt with Special Needs that Changed the Way I See Friendship

I was in high school then when my parents separated. We were lucky that our grandmother took care of us. I had very few friends in school because I didn't want to mingle with others so that they won't ask about our family situation. These led to my own mild depression as a child. Basically, my life was limited to school and our house.

My cousins and siblings were very young as well back then. So I only had Aunt Ato to talk to and confide with. She's not only my aunt, she was my friend as well. She's someone you can talk to and share your feelings with.

Since we shared the same room, we would talked about how the day went by before we went to sleep.  I felt my secrets were safe with her since she's special and would probably not tell others. Besides, she rarely goes out of the house. :)

Even if she's usually just limited to the four corners of our house, it did not prevent her in making friends. We always tell her that we are her family and friends.

She is definitely a wonderful gift in our lives, much more so in mine.

Moreover, I learned the meaning of unconditional love. 
"I learned that anyone can be a friend if only we open our hearts and let them in."
Pondering upon all that we've been through, she has taught me the follwoing:

1. Giving 

Aunt Ato would lovingly share her room. Oftentimes, she would stay at the living room and give-up her space for us to have a comfortable sleep.

Furthermore, she's a good cook, as she is the one who prepares our meal. She is very generous when it comes to food as well.

2. Enjoying the Little Things

Too often we become too materialistic that we forget to enjoy the simple things in life. There was a time I heard Aunt Ato laugh realizing I'm being too hard on myself.

The beautiful flower that blooms, a bird chirping outside, these are all the small things that we tend to take for granted. Perhaps one of our favorite activities is watching old Tagalog films since she was born in 1960s.

3. Everyday is a Fresh Start: 

We live in an imperfect world. And no matter what we do, trials will come to make us a better person. But we can always stand up when we fall.

Everyday is a fresh start.

4. Love Everyone

Aunt Ato treats everyone with love and compassion. She prepares food for us and others, smiles, and entertains us all with her stories.

She's a friend to all, even to our dogs and cats. :)

5. Family is Important

We have a big family. And it was an important factor for all of us while growing up. Aside from the warmth and love that you share, the familial support you can have for each other defines the typical Filipino family in both good and bad times.

6. Be Positive

There are times I tend to focus on the negative things in life. Aunt Ato has taught me to think and act positively. Did you know that she still thinks she'll get married one day? She believes that she's beautiful and wants to look presentable at all times. :)

Photo taken in 2012: Tita Ato attending a wedding
Change the Way We See

We don't want our loved ones to get sick or hurt, much less to be a failure in life.  But having a differently-abled loved one in the family can be a blessing - an unplanned journey that can touch the lives of the very people around him/her.

Photo taken in 2014: Tita To loves all the kids at home. She's not only their auntie, she's also a friend and playmate
There are times we couldn't help but feel sad with her limited abilities, but little did we know that she can be an inspiration to others.

Most of us keep complaining about life, despite being physically fit. And here she is, a differently-abled person, proving that you can succeed no matter what. All you need is willpower and determination.

Photo taken with a smartphone in 2008
These photos I have collected over the years changed me how I see my Aunt Ato.

It's good that I was able to save some memories through these photographs using my cameras. Back then, we only had film-run cameras. Today, we have better ones, even our smartphones are now equipped with the latest technology just like the Huawei P9 which can “Change the Way You See Mobile Photography”.  Huawei P9’s camera is co-engineered with Leica with its dual lenses that produces high quality photos allowing users to take amazing monochrome, slo-mo, colored, and light paintings, among others.

I'm happy that we still have Auntie Ato so we can spend more time together and take more "selfies"!

The Center for Possibilities Foundation 

Dolores Cheng, founder of the Center for Possibilities Foundation continues to support families who had loved ones with special needs. I am happy to meet GelliJake and AJ and listened to their stories of hope and love. I deeply admire their parents and caregiver as well. For the times that we feel sorry about our lives, we must look beyond and see the lives of Gelli, Jake and AJ and their families. Maybe we will feel better and inspired.

Indeed, my relationship with Aunt Charito has gone beyond the bloodlines; we have become friends. In the same way, she has taught me to accept other people in my life. I have learned to become more patient and appreciate the simple things in everyday life. I hope this article have inspired you as well to change the way you see friendship in people with special needs.


  1. Well done! people should read this,to be able to create awareness for "differently able"person,oftentimes being taken for granted for a situation they did not asked for.they are indeed a blessings in disguise.thanks marj,i now see life in the simplest form.


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