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 the work being undertaken overseas on the relationship between architecture and autism. The intersection between them became her ‘obsession’ and she decided to learn everything she could about how our built environment affects those with ASD.
Shelly 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 as a Building Designer her professional and personal lives meshed together.
Shelly’s Churchill Fellowship enabled her to travel overseas to interview global leaders in the field of autism and the built environment. The global trip saw her meeting with people willing to share their expertise and experience, and in time she expanded her original focus from the linkage between architecture and autism to the broader neurodiverse community.
Her report ‘Different Buildings for Different Minds’ encapsulates conversations and observations made from looking at leading practice around the globe and represents just a small part of the knowledge gained from her research in Australia and abroad. She views this as the start of a conversation between industry, government and, most importantly, individuals with autism and their families.
‘Postcards to Jacson’ is the series of blogs and memories she wrote while on her trip, hoping that one day he will have the ability to read them, enjoy her journey and know that he is as much a part of change as she is. am.
Shelly Dival is a Member of the Australasian Autism Research Council, the Leadership Advisory Board “A Place in the World” research by Arizona State University Morrison Institute, member of Design Matters, the national body for Australian Building Designers, a design award winner and presenter on designing an enabling built environment for individuals with autism.
She is Co-Founder and Director of the Enabling Spaces Foundation of Australia, which will be providing consulting services to enable the design of homes, public spaces and buildings to support the sensory and cognitive needs of individuals with autism and other neurological conditions. This focuses on an architectural strategy based on leading practice research that can be applied by architects or designers to the design and specifications of the home or building project.