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The Concept of “Divergent Design”

Updated: Apr 15

While attending the 2023 Institute for Challenging Disorganization conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Devin Price, Ph.D., presents on the topic of “Pathological Demand Avoidance.” I know that sounds heavy. Price is Autistic and was diagnosed as an adult. The biggest takeaway I had from this session was to be aware of how neurodiversity impacts my clients in the process of understanding their own learning styles and behaviors. 

After listening to Price’s presentation, I added one of their books, “Unmasking Autism,” to my reading list. As Price was diagnosed with Autism as an adult, it is fitting that the book would be written from that perspective and intended to be read by other adults either recently diagnosed or questioning if they are also on the spectrum. Price puts most of the emphasis in the book on identifying how undiagnosed autistics have had to “mask” their behaviors since childhood to fit social norms. Price offers significant examples of how an individual can reframe what might have been considered “bad” habits or behaviors and focus on how they are positive and possibly beneficial.

A section of the book I want to highlight is focused on “Divergent Design.” Price writes about designer Marta Rose, who coined the term. As written in the book, “divergent design refers to the idea that the physical spaces we inhabit as Autistic people ought to prioritize our sensory health and work with the actual patterns of our lives.” The primary focus is on organizing for how you actually live, not how you aspire to live. While this is advice given to all clients, regardless of diagnosis, Rose’s focus takes spatial planning a step further by paying attention to sharp corners, textures used, and having ample open space available for body movement if needed.

In the world of organizing and interior design there is often a focus on the aesthetic more than the function. Rose emphasizes the importance of creating a space that will best support the individual. For some autistic people, having a clear, distraction-free space is most important. For others, there is a need for easily accessible fidget toys and displays of a toy collection. Honoring the individual’s needs above aesthetics is of the utmost importance and this section of the book really resonated with me.

Price’s writing style is easy to comprehend and offers significant insight into the perspective of an individual navigating life with a neurodiverse diagnosis as an adult. I imagine there is a significant population of people in a similar position who would find this text relatable and resourceful. 

If you are interested in buying the book, click below:

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