Filtered By: Lifestyle

From the Philippines to the universe, Michelle Dee pushes for autism awareness, acceptance, and inclusivity

Michelle Dee is bringing her advocacy for autism awareness, acceptance, and inclusivity on her journey as she vies for the highly-coveted Miss Universe crown.

In the latest episode of "Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho," the Kapuso actress and newly-crowned Miss Universe Philippines queen explained why autism awareness is close to her heart.

She introduced her two brothers, Adam and Mazen, who are both on the autism spectrum.

"It's always been a life-long advocacy for me to advocate for autism awareness, autism acceptance, and inclusivity," Michelle said. "From education to healthcare to governments giving people with disabilities the proper opportunities, kulang pa talaga."

("There are not enough opportunities given to people with disabilities.")

As a true advocate, Michelle did her research and expressed her concern about the alarming statistics on people diagnosed with autism, which proves that her advocacy is both timely and relevant not just in the Philippines but worldwide.

"If 10 years ago, the statistics were 50 individuals on the spectrum, now it's at 500," she said.

Michelle said it pains her to see people misunderstanding the situations of those within the spectrum.

"The common terms would be like, 'retarded' or 'stupid' or 'dysfunctional,'" she said. "I always defended them if anything because that's what we do with family. But at the same time, it was so frustrating for me to see how they were being treated."

She also shared how people who fall in the autism spectrum, including her two brothers, are subject to bullying.

"You kind of just see them wondering na lang alone because they couldn't connect with anyone," Michelle said.

For Michelle, her brothers Mazen and Adam are two gifted individuals who serve as blessings in their family.

"Mazen can solve [a] 5-piece puzzle in less than a day. Adam will not forget your birthday as soon as you meet him. He's like a human calendar," she said. "They're both very gifted, and it's just unfortunate that people don't recognize that."

During the Miss Universe Philippines 2023 coronation night, her brothers were nothing but supportive.

"They were just jumping up and down like whenever Makati would be called. It's like they really understood that I was competing, not just for myself but also for them," she said.

Because of her brothers, Michelle has been active in supporting organizations that push for autism awareness and acceptance.

Last Thursday, Michelle visited Nanay Elvira, a 92-year-old grandmother who's the sole caretaker of Ronalyn, a 45-year-old woman who is on the autism spectrum.

Their neighbor, Nanay Wilma, shared that Ronalyn was only two years old when Nanay Elvira took her in.

"Maliit pa siya nung pinaampon. Habang lumalaki siya may iba, dun ko pina-check. Sinabi nila she's an autistic. May mga nagsasabi noon, 'Give her up'. Hindi ko 'yun magagawa. Paano kung mapunta siya sa mga kamay na hindi mabuti?"

("When she was growing up, we noticed something different about her and had her checked. They said that she's on the autism spectrum. There were people that said, 'Give her up'. I couldn't do that. What if something bad was to happen to her?")

Widowed, Nanay Elvira had to rely on food donations from their neighbors most of the time.

"Alam ninyo ba 'yun din ang naiisip ko, halimbawa mawala ako, paano siya? Naisip ko rin 'yan, kung sinong pupuntahan ko, ihabilin ko. 'Pag nakikita ko siya, awa ang unang pumapasok sa isip ko, sa puso ko. Hindi ko ma-explain kung gaano ko kamahal."

("Sometimes, I wonder, 'What if I'm no longer here? Who's going to take care of her?' I can't explain how much I care for her.")

Michelle, along with the KMJS team, provided Nanay Elvira and Ronalyn with new household items and toiletries.

The team also had Nanay Elvira and Ronalyn checked on by doctors.

"Ang dapat nagma-manage diyan ay mismong magulang. In that case, medyo may edad na po si lola, di ba, at mukhang wala talagang pwedeng mag-handle. So it is one of our dreams of ASP na magkaroon ng tinatawag na mga adult home.And dito sa Pilipinas kokonti lang po yan," Dang Koe, Chairman Emerita of Autism Society Philippines, shared.

("In an ideal situation, Rona's parents would be the one to care for her. But in her case, there's no one else who can take on this responsibility. That's why at Autism Society Philippines, we hope that there would also be adult homes.")

For Rona, Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Dee had some encouraging words to share.

"Rona, lumaban ka lang ha? May silbi ka sa buhay. Dapat laging mabait sa kapwa. Dapat lahat ng gawin natin, puno ng pag-ibig, huwag ka mag-alala, dadating din ang tulong."

("Keep fighting, Rona. You matter in this world. In everything that we do, let's do it with love. Don't worry because help is on its way.")

With the Miss Universe Philippine crown on her head and her firm advocacy in place, Michelle is set to represent the country on the global stage at El Salvador later this year. —JCB, GMA Integrated News