The eldest of Michelle (Shelly) Dival's six grandchildren, Jacson, was born with Down Syndrome and at the age of seven he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After some research, Shelly discovered work being undertaken overseas on the relationship between architecture and autism. Being a building designer, this intersection became Shelly's 'obsession' and she strove to learn everything she could about how built environments affect those with ASD. She realised Australia lacked expertise in this area yet thousands of individuals and families live with autism and could benefit from a more positive interaction with their built environment. After 25 years designing buildings, her professional and personal lives meshed.

Shelly's Churchill Fellowship enabled her to interview global leaders in the field of autism and the built environment, and she expanded her focus from the links between architecture and autism to the broader neuro-diverse community. Shelly's Fellowship report encapsulates conversations and observations made from studying leading practice around the globe and represents just a small part of the knowledge gained from her research. She views this as the start of a conversation between industry, government, and importantly, people with autism and their families. 'Postcards to Jacson' is a series of blogs and memories she wrote while on her trip, hoping that one day he'll be able to read them, enjoy her journey, and know that he's as much a part of change as she is.

Since her Fellowship, Shelly has served on the Australian Autism Research Council and the leadership advisory board "A Place in the World" research by Arizona State University Morrison Institute. She presents at conferences and industry workshops. She has developed consulting services to plan for Autism and neuro-diversity based on leading research for the design and specification of homes, public spaces and buildings to support sensory and cognitive needs for people with Autism and other neurological conditions.

Shelly is a long-time member of Design Matters, the national body for Australian building designers. She's a dedicated committee member of nearly 20 years, a design excellence award winner, and a design excellence judge for several industry associations.

In 2022, Shelly was a recipient of the Trust's Impact Funding program — an initiative to enhance outcomes of Churchill Fellowships for all industries and sectors. Shelly's project, to develop a low cost, accessible self-learning resource for people and families living with Autism and neuro-diversity will provide the know how for simple home modifications to minimise sensory overload and benefit memory and decision making, personal wellbeing and growth. About Impact Funding


To study specialised building design of homes/work places for individuals on the autism spectrum

To study specialised building design of homes/work places for individuals on the autism spectrum

United Kingdom
Community Service
Michelle Dival

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