Different Buildings for Different Minds

A study of the specialised building design of homes & workplaces for individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

About This Report

Several years ago when my grandson Jacson was diagnosed with Autism, I began researching how the built environment affects individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. I found that Australia had very little information and next to no expertise in regards to the impact our built environment has - both negative and positive.

I needed to go overseas to meet with experts around the globe who were leading the way in this research. The extensive nature of my trip was only made possible through the wonderful fellowship program of the Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (Aust.). This report is a summary of conversations and observations made from looking at best practice around the globe. It is just a small part of the knowledge gained from my research both here and abroad.

It is the start of a conversation between industry, government and most importantly individuals with autism and their families. I hope it is the beginning of change.

A Report by Michelle (Shelly) Dival, Churchill Fellow.

Praise for Different Buildings For Different Minds

Necessity, history tells us, is the mother of invention.  Never was this truer than when applied to the lived environment for people with autism.  Not only is an enabling environment a necessity, it is a basic human right. Those of us without cognitive challenges take for granted the ease with which we are able to navigate, understand and assimilate information from unfamiliar environments.  For people with autism, the world and the spaces in which they live can be a constant source of anxiety.  

Shelly Dival has taken this challenge, this necessity, and has innovatively sourced solutions to the difficulties that people with autism encounter on a daily basis.  She starts from a position of knowledgeable authority, both in terms of her professional understanding of the built environment and her personal passion in understanding autism.  Creating a synergy between these two worlds is no mean feat. In striving to explore this synergy further, Shelly has gained knowledge, expertise and evidence from around the world with the benefit of the Churchill Fellowship.  She has made exceptional use of the fellowship; planning an itinerary which saw her visit 5 countries on her mission to gather evidence. Having met Shelly during this tour, I can personally say she is one of the most dedicated practitioners I have met working in this field.  She not only understands the challenges of living with autism, but truly appreciates how the built environment can impact upon or facilitate a person’s function.  

I, like Shelly, share the dream that we can one day live in a world which is truly inclusive.  It will take energy, enthusiasm, tenacity and creativity to achieve this. Shelly has the qualities, knowledge and drive required to bring about change.  She did not embark upon this journey in half measures; she embarked upon it to succeed and I believe that she is exactly what the world of autism and design needs.


Insightful. Thought-provoking. A must-have resource for pioneers fueling a new wave of residential and work environment options for people with autism and other neuro-diversities. Thank you, Shelly, for connecting our passionate pursuits and global community through your inspired and neuro-inclusive work. 

Denise D. Resnik, Founder, President/CEO First Place AZ, Co-Founder Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and Matt's mom

“The more science has taught us about neurodiversity, the more we have revealed about our humanity. Communities are built upon these observations, and nurturing this diversity is critical to our future. Without a doubt, our community will best be served by having a built environment that can support the strengths and challenges of every individual. Shelly’s pioneering research reveals how this might be achieved for those living on the autism spectrum. This work is unparalleled, and has the potential to transform how the autism community can interact with the built environment."

Andrew Whitehouse, Angela Wright Bennett Professor of Autism Research Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia

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Shelly Dival

talking taps and other essential things with Scottish Autism

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