Build­ing a future for Jac­son

Hills Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Lynn Gri­er­son

A NINE-year-old autis­tic child with Down syn­drome is the cat­a­lyst for in­no­va­tion in build­ing de­sign in Aus­tralia to aid 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.

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.

“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.

Pic­ture: Bruce Hunt d474579

Michelle Di­val with her grand­son Jac­son Schoolmeester in her home.

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