Hills-based building designer inspired by autistic child with Down Syndrome to design specialised home

Hills-based building designer inspired by autistic child with Down Syndrome to design specialised home
Hills-based building designer inspired by autistic child with Down Syndrome to design specialised home

A NINE-year-old autistic child with Down Syndrome is the catalyst for innovation in building design in Australia for people on the autism spectrum.

Michelle Dival wants to raise the benchmark for specialised building design in Australia on behalf of her grandson Jacson Schoolmeester.

In November, she will receive a fellowship from The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to travel the world in search of excellence and bring home that knowledge.

The Hills-based building designer with 20-plus years of experience will seek best practice in building homes, schools and workplaces for people with special needs.

“I’m honoured to know that people who regularly assess projects have deemed me and my project to be worthy,” she said.

Ms Dival (53) is one of 13 people from WA to be made a Churchill Fellow from a pool of 1140 applicants in 2017 across Australia.

“After Jacson’s diagnosis, I researched autism and came across a number of case studies, then came the light bulb moment,” she said.

“It was so logical to develop my skills as a building designer, to learn more about specialised design and apply that knowledge to create harmonious homes and workplaces for people with special needs.

“They say that if you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism because people are unique.“I want to create a methodology around a person’s individual needs and the needs of their families,” she said.

Her eight-week trip begins in March and will involve visits to housing and schools in the US, France, Holland, Denmark and the UK where she will meet with representatives of The National Autistic Society in London.

She said the needs of people on the autism spectrum were many and varied.

“I will be talking to people that have worked in specialised design for a long time, who know what’s worked and what hasn’t,” she said.

“There are many aspects to consider, from creating spaces for social interaction, therapy and personal development, to adequate storage space and the fabrics to use.”

A key feature of her design will address safety concerns.

Camp Australia in Cloverdale was fined $30,000 in April last year after Jacson wandered away from an after-school-hours care centre without anyone noticing but was found about an hour later.

“Fortunately Jacson was found about an hour later by an older couple who’d had contact with children with special needs,” she said.

She hopes to establish an awareness and accreditation program in specialised building design similar to that run by the UK’s autism society. Her projects at the concept stage include a new fire station and buildings for Riding for the Disabled Association (WA) in Stoneville.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust began in 1965 to offer people a chance to seek knowledge and insights to benefit Australian communities.

In 2017, 109 people will be awarded fellowships totaling $2.8 million. Applications open again on February 1 2018.

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