For a while I’ve wanted to do more collaborative pieces, and for today’s post I’d like to share a recent interview with the wonderful Emily from @21andsensory!
Firstly can you introduce yourself?
My name is Emily, I’m 25 years old and I am the person behind @21andsensory on Instagram. I started my blog in 2015 when I was 21 years old which explains the name 21andsensory. I then later started my 21andsensory page on Instagram. I live in the UK and have a (BA Hons) Graphic Design degree. I am a Graphic Designer full-time and an illustrator/blogger in my spare time.
Can you tell us a little bit about your diagnoses for people who don’t know you?
Sure, I have Sensory Processing Disorder and I am Autistic (diagnosed November 2019, aged 25).
“Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organised into appropriate responses. A pioneering occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. So that means that aperson with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.“ (Source: spdstar.org)
My Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis: An Occupational Therapist (OT) diagnosed me with SPD when I was in primary school (I think I was around aged 8). I’ve tried lots of different therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and therapy sessions with CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service, NHS, UK) as well as self-funding private therapy sessions. Unfortunately I found these unhelpful and they made me feel worse. I have found OT to be the most helpful form of therapy.
My Autism diagnosis: I was on an NHS waiting list for an Autism assessment for 14 months (referred in September 2018) and I had my autism assessment on November 8th 2019. I found out I was autistic aged 25. You can read all about my journey to a diagnosis here. Also check out Episode 16 of my 21andsensory podcast discussing my journey to my diagnosis here. I also have anxiety and episodes of depression, mild OCD, hyperhydrosis and severe dyslexia (I was only assessed and told I was dyslexic when I was 19!).
On your page you mention daily living as a sensory-being, can you talk us though a normal day for you in terms of sensory processing?
I recently did an illustration of daily sensory things that I find hard to handle as I wanted to raise awareness of how sensory processing issues are a constant thing – my senses are ridiculously heightened at all times so even little things such as someone touching me on the shoulder/arm during a conversation or coping with different noises and scents can hugely overwhelm me.
My mood can change so quickly if I am overwhelmed by something as I cannot filter the information coming into my brain and I cannot regulate my emotions or understand and label my own feelings. Thus means day-to-do it can be quite tiring being out in the world and as a result I’ve become very good at masking (hiding my true thoughts/feelings) and I can only really drop that mask when I am in a safe environment like my home.
At the moment I am working from home but usually work in an open plan office during the week. I find it such a difficult and distracting environment so I am currently really enjoying being able to work from home in my own environment and in the quiet. I can also be myself and use fidget toys and get up and move when I like!
You’re an illustrator, when did you first start drawing, was this something you always wanted to do as a career? If not what what did you want to do as a career originally?
I first started drawing alot when I was in primary school, I think I always enjoyed and looked forward to art classes. This continued into secondary school where I studied both Art and Graphic Design at GCSE and ALevel. I think I decided aged 16 I wanted to become a Graphic Designer as graphic design became a real passion for me. I then went on to study an Art Foundation Degree at a creative design uni for a year after sixth form. After that I decided that I definitely wanted to study graphic design further and was accepted onto a BA (Hons) Graphic Design Degree and later went on to graduate with a first class degree.
I worked in a creative communications agency for 8 months and then moved to my current design job which I’ve been at for almost 3 years now. I don’t think I ever had any other career ideas – I was almost transfixed on becoming some form of designer! I’m an illustrator in my spare time mainly but I do have to illustrate quite a bit at my day job too.
Can you tell us a little bit about your illustration, what you tend to draw most, has anybody inspired you?
I think I started doing illustrations because I am a really visual person and I find things come across better sometimes if they are written down and drawn. I think people can easily understand and relate to my little illustrations because I use lot of iconography to symbolise what I am talking about and that makes things a lot clearer.
The main reason I started my blog (and then later my instagram page) was because I couldn’t find any information online relating to Sensory Processing Disorder / sensory issues in teens and adults. All the information I came across was related to toddlers and children (which i don’t have anything against) and had mainly been published in the U.S. I really want it to be recognised that sensory problems aren’t something children necessarily grow out of but learn to live with and adapt to for the rest of their lives and I hope that this all comes across in my illustrations.
So many people have inspired me – I follow so many fantastic designers and illustrators online and they are a great source of inspiration for me. There’s also a fab autism community on Instagram and I’ve met some amazing people over there!
A few of my favourite illustrators and designers online are:
@theautisticlife, @petite_gloom, @Rubyetc, @bethdrawsthings, @wheresmybubble, @sublime.jpg, @constantbageltherapy, @demiwhiffin, @ninacosford.
Can you walk us through your design/creation process?
Of course. I always start on paper – never straight onto a computer. I tend to start off by sketching out ideas and writing in my moleskine A5 sketchbook with a pencil. Depending on what I’m designing or creating I might initially start out by researching on my computer or gathering inspiration and creating a moodboard to get me started. Sometimes I do a few initial sketches or small thumbnail sketches before I am happy with the layout.
I then create a black and white version of my sketch on my iPad Pro (10.5 inch) with my Apple pencil in the Procreate app. I think it’s important to work in black and white first and be happy with my design in that format before then adding in colour to complete my work. I then get someone in my family to check my spelling (as I mentioned before I am very dyslexic!) before publishing my work online on my Instagram and blog.
In terms of illustrating, do you find any challenges in terms of being Autistic, and if so how do you over come them?
I think in terms of being autistic I am quite a creative person and this enables me to have a fresh outlook and different perspective of the world around me especially as I am more in tune with all things sensory!
I think both my SPD and Autism have given me the ability to hyper-focus in on creative tasks that are I have to do at work but also in my own side-projects too. I can quite easily lose track of time if I am really invested and passionate about what I’m doing. I am also a very dedicated worker and a real perfectionist (which isn’t always good as I can get a bit obsessive). However mostly I think these both help me creatively.
A huge thank you to Emily for allowing me to interview her, I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this fantastic piece! Be sure to follow Emily on her social media @21andsensory and follow her blog too!