Alexithymia and World Autism Acceptance Day 🌍

It’s #WorldAutismAcceptanceDay (within #WorldAutismAcceptanceWeek) and I thought why not share some of my own lived experience via the format of illustration and share more info about something that a lot of autistic people can struggle with…

Alexithymia. 

‘What the hell is that?’
‘Erm okay fancy word’
‘Alexi-th-what?

Here’s the definition:
According to @autistica ‘Around a half of autistic people have difficulties understanding and describing their own emotions. This is known as Alexithymia. Alexithymia can make anxiety feel worse for autistic people. In Greek, it loosely translates to “no words for emotion.” It is estimated that 1 in 10 people has alexithymia, but it is much more common in those with depression and in autistic people. 1 in 5 autistic people have alexithymia.’

Interesting, right? 1 in 5 autistic people and 1 in every 10 people potentially struggle with Alexithymia. That’s a lot of people.

My own experience with Alexithymia was that it was something my autism assessor said she thought I struggled with, but I’d never even heard of it (even at the age of 25 when I was assessed). I definitely find it super difficult to explain my feelings to others because I genuinely cannot recognise or process my own emotions, but I didn’t know it had a name and meaning behind it. It’s hard to not be able to communicate your feelings and something else I read on Autistica’s website was: ‘They may also struggle to show or feel emotions that are seen as socially appropriate, such as happiness on a joyous occasion.’ THIS. I feel sad and very upset at the happiest things, I find happy occasions and news so incredibly difficult to deal with emotionally (and in many other ways) and it’s hard because visually people can tell you aren’t really responding appropriately.

Here’s a few personal examples of how I struggle with Alexithymia and being Autistic (I could give many but I won’t bore you!):

  • I feel incredibly sad at weddings. No idea why. People seem to think it’s the happiest day of your life but I have always reacted weirdly (and attending weddings is hard as an autistic person anyway!)
  • I cry at happy endings: in TV, Films, etc. I just cannot handle them. I will literally avoid watching the last season of something so I just literally stop the story and tell myself that was where it ended so I don’t have to deal with the emotion. I avoid watching films a lot.
  • I feel sad on holiday. I struggle when I am not in my home environment and I just can’t process being in a new place, not eating or being able to find my normal foods, and don’t get me STARTED on sleeping in an unfamiliar bed.
  • Not reacting appropriately to good news such as job offers, acceptance letters, etc. I just don’t ever feel that sense of achievement or happiness.
  • Not reacting appropriately to bad news such as accidents, emergencies, etc. I am oddly calm / unemotional in these moments because I don’t have the ability to process things until days or weeks later.

I hope maybe this has given you more of an insight into what Alexithymia is and the everyday struggles of autistic people and people with mental health conditions.

Read more about Alexithymia on Autistica’s website here

Sensory-Friendly Shopping (IKEA Edition) 🛍

Black sign on ikea shop floor saying:

Sensory-friendly shopping
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th March,
10am - 12pm
In our continued efforts to curate an inclusive shopping experience for all, we shall be making changes to our normal operating practices.
Only essential in-store announcements will be made.
Where possible, lights will be dimmed or switched off.
Assisted shopping where required and dedicated check-out support.
IKEA yellow and blue logo

I saw this ‘Sensory-Friendly Shopping’ initiative from IKEA when I was out briefly the other day. Now this is great – it’s a step in the right direction and it means a lot to me to see these sorts of signs. However: I initially was excited because I thought it might be two whole days: when it’s actually 10am-12pm on two weekdays. I think IKEA can do better.

Why not a weekend day? And how about a sensory map to guide you through the store? (I find IKEA’s way finding systems and signs overwhelming despite the fact they guide you through overhead signs and arrows on the floor).

I think so many different people can benefit from a sensory friendly shopping experience and I want to talk about and see more discussions around it!

Also…I wouldn’t have known this was happening if I hadn’t been walking past or in the store as it’s not mentioned on their socials

Image alt text:

Black sign on ikea shop floor saying: Sensory-friendly shopping Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th March, 10am – 12pm In our continued efforts to curate an inclusive shopping experience for all, we shall be making changes to our normal operating practices.

  • Only essential in-store announcements will be made.
  • Where possible, lights will be dimmed or switched off.
  • Assisted shopping where required and dedicated check-out support.

IKEA yellow and blue logo

Eyesight changes and the struggle of new glasses 👓

I thought for the next post in my Sensory Series I’d discuss Eyesight changes and the struggle of new glasses 👓 

Click through the slideshow above or read the written description below…

In my Sensory Series I share text slides on different aspects of Sensory Processing (in between my regular posts of illustrations on my Instagram and here on my blog) so I can share my own outlook on all things sensory related. I thought it would be interesting to share my own experiences, tips and tricks along the way, feel free to scroll back over other posts in this series too! Feel free to comment down below how you cope with all things new or glasses related 👀 

Alt text:

Slide 1:

Black and white icon of  a calendar with a black glasses icon with text underneath:

Eyesight changes and the struggle of new glasses

The a pastel green line with ‘@21andsensory‘ underneath and in the top right hand corner of the post there is a pastel green box that says ‘ SENSORY SERIES’ in to show what series the post is part of.

Slide 2:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: 

You might know how much I hate change and new things. I know ‘hate’ is a strong word but it’s the best word I can think of to describe the utter upset and hatred I (and many other autistic people) have for all things new or newly changed.

Recently my glasses prescription changed and I had to get new glasses. I really put off picking them up. I hate how bubbly they always make your vision feel as you get used to them – it actually makes me upset.

Slide 3:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

I’ve always been funny about glasses (no surprise there) and I’d love to stick with the exact same brand and style but they change so quickly and you can’t always replace the lenses in ones you already have.

I am also overly protective of my glasses and have to put them back in their designated case every night without fail and can’t leave them lying around. Also: No matter how nicely you ask…you can’t try my glasses on. EVER. I absolutely cannot handle it.

Slide 4:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

Eye tests in general (at least in the UK) can set off sensory overload and require a large amount of processing instructions quickly. It can be scary but it’s more than okay to ask up front or during an eye test for instructions to be said slower. It’s also okay to ask them to move between lenses in front of your eye more slowly.

An example I have is that I can’t  process my left and right quickly when I am told to look in those directions so I take my time to think.

Slide 5: 

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

Random very sensory thing: does anyone else jump when they do the weird puff of air in your eye…I hate it so much!

Do feel free to comment down below if you also have difficulties with change, newness and/or glasses in general and maybe we could share our struggles and any tips too.

I’d also love to know any other topics you’d like me to cover in these Sensory Series info posts!

Slide 6:

21andsensory logo (person holding up a white board with ’21andsensory’ on it. Underneath it says:

If you like my work and you are able to, please consider supporting me via my Kofi page or Redbubble here

Or why not have a listen to my 21andsensory Podcast! With social media icons underneath – @21andsensory across social media.

The struggle of buying and using new (and second hand) products 🛍

  • Black and white icon of two shopping bags 'The struggle of buying and using new products'. The a pastel green line with '@21andsensory' underneath and in the top right hand corner of the post there is a pastel green box that says ' SENSORY SERIES' in to show what series the post is part of.
  • Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: I recently bought a new mobile phone as my current phone was practically a landline and needed to be plugged in multiple times a day to stay on. It’s something I had put off countless times as I hate buying new (and even second hand) things because they feel new to me no matter where they have come from. I’m finding it almost upsetting to use, as it feels ‘too new’. I keep putting it back in it’s box to keep it safe.
  • Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: Dealing with new things is something I have always struggled with and I find it is hardest with new clothes and especially new shoes. For example I was bought a pair of Converse shoes by my family a while back. It took me around 4-5 years to physically wear them because they just felt ‘too new to wear’. I stick to wearing the same clothes or using the same electronics until they fall apart or don’t work anymore.
  • Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: I’ve tried things like unwrapping and unboxing new things and putting them out in my room to make them feel less new and different or trying them on briefly...I haven’t found it helps much. I like to buy second hand if I can because then it helps to know that things have already been worn or used and I am not the first person that’s owned them (although for both new and second hand clothes they need multiple washes in order for them to smell right for me to wear!)
  • Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: If you swipe to the end slide you can see one of my previous illustrations I did on struggling to wear new clothes. I know that it is the way I am, and there’s very slow ways of coping with it, but I am trying to be proud of the tiny steps I manage to make. Do feel free to comment down below if you also have difficulties with change and newness (if you’d like to!) and maybe we could share our struggles and any top tips too!
  • An illustration with a main title and a comic split in 4 sections Title: Clothes Shopping (Autistic / Sensory Edition) Four sections: - *Needs new clothes* Drawing of a pale green t-shirt with threads coming loose and holes in it, a pair of grey drawstring shorts with a large stain on them, a pair of blue skinny denim jeans with threads coming loose at the bottom and rip on the knees, and a pair of orange and white socks with a hole by the big toe. Text saying ’DAMN IT’ next to them to show how annoying this is! - Tries searching for exact replacements: A woman with black hair sat at a white desk with a blue and white tangle fidget and cup of tea in a mug with her grey MacBook laptop open in front of her. Text says *SCROLL* and *CLICK* next to her to show she is searching online for new clothing - They arrive and get put away… a folded pile of t-shirts in pale green, orange, blue and pink next to a pastel purple jumper hung up on a black coat hanger. Next to the jumper there are two ‘sparkle’ emojis to show the jumper is brand new - 3 years later…still feel too new to wear. Shows a brand new pale green t-shirt, blue denim skinny jeans, pastel purple jumper and grey pair of shorts hanging up on a black metal clothing rail which are still brand new and have never been worn. A woman with black hair and a pale blue t-shirt is next to the clothing rail sighing and her hand is resting on her forehead in disbelief.
  • 21andsensory logo (person holding up a white board with '21andsensory' on it. Underneath it says: If you like my work and you are able to, please consider supporting me via my Kofi page (link in bio). Or why not have a listen to my 21andsensory Podcast! With social media icons underneath.

Hi everyone – I thought for the next post in my Sensory Series I’d discuss the struggle of buying and using new (and second hand) products.

In my Sensory Series I’ll be sharing text slides on different aspects of Sensory Processing (in between my regular posts of illustrations) so I can share my own outlook on all things sensory.

I thought it would be interesting to share my own experiences, tips and tricks along the way, feel free to scroll back over other posts in this series too! Please do share this post and feel free to comment down below.

Alt text in Image ID.

DIY Sensory Box

Hello! Today I wanted to share some top tips for making your own DIY Sensory Box. My sensory box is something that’s definitely evolved over the years, as I’ve been able to tolerate more (but also less) things sensory-wise. I think of it as a box to dip into when in any mood as it can be helpful when feeling overwhelmed or burnt out but equally when you just want to experience a little bit of joy and indulge in something like a visual stim you love.

So:

Start with a plastic tub or storage box – I’ve found that one without a lid or an open-top one can be handy if you want to dip in and out of it quickly (I found having a lid meant I stored stuff on top of it and I’d forget I had it / not end up use it!)

I have suggested a few things you might like to pop in your own sensory box in my drawing and in more detail below:

Fidget Toys: Any fidget toys you already have, think of this box as a collection of lots of different sensory items you already own, there’s no need to buy anything new (unless you want to!). Put a range of them in!

Favourite Books: Put a couple of your all-time favourite books, magazines, activity books, notebooks, anything you can read or do in the box.

Safe Snacks: Pop in any go-to snacks you love (that won’t go out of date too soon). I love anything crunchy like crisps or that are the right sort of chewy like skittles, fruit pastilles or mints. Honestly so handy when you need some sensory input and helps as a distraction.

Visual Stims: Anything visual! For example bubble / liquid timers, spinning fidget toys, that sort of thing.

Headphones: Ear defenders, ear plugs, headphones or earphones.

Nice Textures: For example a favourite feeling fabric, I have some sequinned things in mine as I like the visual of sequins and the texture of moving them back and forth

Calms Scents: Essentials oils, candles, etc. Only scents you like and can tolerate. (I don’t have many and that’s also okay if you don’t too!)

Soft items: Soft toys, squishies, soft blankets, fabric off-cuts, that sort of thing!

Also: I very much appreciate that not everything will fit into a sensory box…but I have a solution: a Sensory Corner! There’s a video on YouTube channel (see below) all about my version of this if you are interested, it’s essentially a dedicated corner that you can set up in any room and really tailor to your own sensory needs and include bigger things like a nice comfy rug, interesting lighting that sort of thing!

The Everyday Struggle of Giving Eye Contact…

Hi everyone – I thought for the next post in my Sensory Series I’d discuss the everyday struggle of giving eye contact…

In my Sensory Series I share text slides on different aspects of Sensory Processing and Autism (in between my regular posts of illustrations) so I can share my own outlook on all things sensory related. I thought it would be interesting to share my own experiences, tips and tricks along the way, feel free to scroll back over other posts in this series too! Please do share this post and feel free to comment down below any tips you have to do with eye contact.

Image description:

Slide 1:

Black and white icon of  a wide open eye with eyelashes with text underneath:

The everyday struggle of giving eye contact…

The a pastel green line with ‘@21andsensory‘ underneath and in the top right hand corner of the post there is a pastel green box that says ‘ SENSORY SERIES’ in to show what series the post is part of.

Slide 2:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

Eye contact. Just writing those two words make me cringe inside.

It’s something that’s not built into me and it isn’t automatic. It can feel horrible, awkward, forced and very uncomfortable. 

It is overwhelming and feels personal to look at someone so directly. It’s something I am constantly thinking and overthinking. I have to analyse every situation in terms of eye contact and what might be expected of me.

Slide 3:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

I am also awful at knowing how long to look at someone for.

How long is too long? Do I look away every few seconds? Am I coming across as odd?

I find it much easier to talk to a person by looking around them and not at them…but that’s not exactly recognised as a ‘natural’ way to engage in conversation.

I wish it was. It’s far less stressful.

Slide 4:

Eye contact for me is also something that has been massively impacted by the pandemic (and many others I am sure).

I lost all the previous ability I had built up to interact and look at people because I was out of practice and not having to do it daily. Now I am having to build it up all over again.

It’s physically tiring and draining to look at people. This is really hard to explain and communicate to others.

Slide 5:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:

I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that I can actually think about what I want to say much more easily when I am not having to look directly at someone. I have a clearer thought process when looking away.

I wish eye contact wasn’t associated with coming across a certain way, such as being rude or not interested. 

I am listening, I am (mostly) interested but I might not always be looking at you. I wish that was more understood.

Slide 6:

21andsensory logo (person holding up a white board with ’21andsensory’ on it. Underneath it says:

If you like my work and you are able to, please consider supporting me via my Kofi page (link in bio). 

Or why not have a listen to my 21andsensory Podcast! With social media icons underneath.

The Constant Autistic Internal Monologue

Hi everyone here again to share another drawing…this time on the ‘Constant Autistic Internal Monologue’ which is something that I experience.

Let me explain it a bit more…I didn’t realise (until literally the day of my autism assessment) that most people don’t have a constantly internal monologue running inside them. I was chatting to my assessor and casually explained that I have this constant running internal monologue inside of me of how to act, be, live, etc. By this I mean a constant voice inside me (that is me, not a separate person) telling me things like:

  • ‘Try and keep eye contact Emily!’ 
  • ‘Maybe sit up straight and try and look a bit more interested?’
  • ‘You might be walking to close…maybe back off a bit?’
  • ‘They might want a handshake? A hug? Be prepared’
  • ‘Does my face look engaged? Is my expression okay?’
  • ‘Am I looking awkward?’
  • ‘You could go sit in the toilet for a bit and decompress?’
  • ‘Did I not talk enough? Did I come across weird?’

(As you can see it can be in a range of person tenses and talks in present and past tense too)

It’s constantly suggesting things to me and is very wary of not fitting in and seeming different. It warns me of things, prompts me to maybe do things which would seem more ‘normal’ and it’s not something I can switch off. I think it is a part of masking but it is not something I cannot drop (v.frustrating). It’s something I have always had, I remember it right the way through school trying to guide me and failing to help me. Also as you can imagine, this continuous internal monologue is taking up a hell of a lot of my brain power and I am dealing with this on a daily basis alongside just existing and juggling things like work and my mental health…which isn’t ideal.

The suggestions aren’t always helpful too which is frustrating because it’s hard to ignore or not listen to them or at least take them on board. I wanted to share this in case it’s something others struggle with too though and because it was something I thought was built into everyone (apparently that’s not the case!).

Hope this all made sense.

Is this something you struggle with too? Let me know in the comments below.

‘Supporting your Neurodiverse Child’ Digital Book…

Takiwatanga Autism Support Services got in touch with me a while back to ask if they could use my graphics in their digital book with Essex Family Forum called ‘Supporting Your Neurodiverse Child’ which is for parents, written by parents from Send The Right Message alongside professionals from across health, education and social care.

It includes over 200 pages of hints, tips and useful information for example: information about the diagnosis process, how to get support for your child at school, health and wellbeing and much more. The team have shared their own experiences and hints and tips, along with those of parents, carers and young people from across Essex, Southend and Thurrock.

There are also signposts to useful books, blogs and online resources which are all tried and tested resources that the team have used and found helpful.

Click here to have a look at the book!

New Year Autistic and Sensory Struggles…📆

Hi everyone – I thought for the next post in my Sensory Series I’d discuss some New Year Autistic and Sensory Struggles…


In my Sensory Series I share text slides on different aspects of Sensory Processing (in between my regular posts of illustrations) so I can share my own outlook on all things sensory related. I thought it would be interesting to share my own experiences, tips and tricks along the way, feel free to scroll back over other posts in this series too over on my Instagram!

Please do share this post and feel free to comment down below how you cope with the New Year and any tips you have!


Image ID below.

Slide 1:

Black and white icon of a calendar with a circled tick inside to indicated a day ticked off or countdown to the New Year with text underneath:
‘New year autistic and sensory struggles…’
The a pastel green line with ‘@21andsensory‘ underneath and in the top right hand corner of the post there is a pastel green box that says ‘ SENSORY SERIES’ in to show what series the post is part of.

Slide 2:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it: 
Everything seeming a bit louder, brighter, and just generally more full-on due to desensitising to things over the break.
Looking forward to the routine or schedule that your educational or workplace setting gives you when you return again.
Worrying more about how your facial expressions and body language are coming across and mimicking other people automatically.

Slide 3:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:
The dread of engaging in post- Christmas small talk on return to school, college, uni, work, etc. 
Not knowing how to word the start of your emails at the beginning of the New Year. (Do you have to ask people how their Christmas / New Year was…is it rude not to…)
Having to get back into the practice of maintaining eye contact with people who aren’t your immediate family or friends all over again.

Slide 4:

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:
Not realising until you are in a safe space that you are masking more in order to cope when you are out and about…and feeling burnt out as a result.
Having to get back into tolerating specific clothing again such as formal work wear or school/work uniforms.
Panicking about have to be more ‘social’ and switched on. Also the struggle of trying not to zone out of conversations and stay present.

Slide 5: 

Pastel green vertical line on left hand side of the image with text next to it:
Not having to worry about being told or asked to try out new foods and drinks and not stressing about whether you’ll have access to your usual safe comfort foods.
Getting back into the rhythm of planning out your downtime to involve special interests, hobbies and things you really love doing.
And…No more Fireworks to worry about! (For a little while at least)

Slide 6:

21andsensory logo (person holding up a white board with ’21andsensory’ on it. Underneath it says:If you like my work and you are able to, please consider supporting me via my Kofi page (link in bio). Or why not have a listen to my 21andsensory Podcast! With social media icons underneath.