Behind the cover - a neurodivergence design by a neurodivergent designer
31 May, 2023
In a new blog post, we hear from Emily who designed the cover of one of the issues of RCPsych Insight, a cover that features in our current exhibition of RCPsych Insight covers.
My name is Emily and I'm an illustrator, graphic designer and podcaster. I have Sensory Processing Disorder, (diagnosed aged 8). I'm dyslexic (diagnosed at university aged 19) and I am autistic (diagnosed in November 2019, aged 25).
I struggle a lot with my mental health mixed in with these diagnoses but (when I can) I love to create really visual and informative illustrations, graphics and blog posts to help other autistic and sensory people feel less alone. I document my struggles, coping strategies and tips and have created a sense of community through posting these across my social media (where I'm known as @21andsensory). I hope to aid neurotypical people through this work such as parents, carers, teachers, support workers and more, in their understanding of Autism.
As I mentioned I am also a podcaster, I host and produce my very own monthly podcast where I chat to neurodivergent people from all walks of life. I’ve been lucky enough to interview some amazing guests including authors, actors, influencers, Illustrators, artists, TikTokers, educators, activists, writers, speakers, YouTubers, researchers, and scientists to name a few!
I felt very honoured to be approached to design the front cover of the RCPsych Insight Summer 2022 magazine. The title was 'Navigating Neurodivergence' and the front cover image linked to an article that explored the challenges faced by psychiatrists (and other doctors) who are autistic and in training or job roles.
So...this was a big topic and a lot to consider and somehow combine into one striking front cover. I initially chatted to the lovely Gemma who is the Editorial manager for the College and she really explained more about the article and gave me both the time and space I needed to process everything.
I went away and started drawing out some ideas in pencil but was a bit overwhelmed initially because there was so much I wanted to say in one drawing. I had a chat with my mum and we sat down and worked out that actually I could take 'Navigating Neurodivergence' quite literally with a concept based around a maze that someone was trying to navigate around whilst balancing lots of different elements. I came up with another two concept drawings around the idea of balancing multiple things at once and we took the maze concept forward to a final design.
The idea behind my cover design is that the person (representative of an autistic psychiatrist or doctor) is looking down on a maze and is trying to navigate it by getting the four metallic balls to each corner all at once...which is very tricky. It's just like one of those annoying puzzles where you need to get the balls into different places without dislodging one you've already placed!
The person is trying to get these multiple balls past big obstacles like stress, stigma and masking to get to the four positive corners which are balance, career, acceptance and empathy. I wanted to show how much of a balancing act it can be trying to focus on your career and doing the best for your patients whilst also being autistic and needing to prioritise your own wellbeing all at the same time.
The pressure to conform and camouflage autistic traits in a world that is built for the neurotypical brain can cause overwhelming stress, mental health issues and burnout and it really is a delicate balancing act.
I am keen to highlight that however many hard things are in the way of the positives (in both my design and in life) they are still achievable and well worth getting to.
It's so great to hear how the college is leading the way in demonstrating the value of a neurodiverse workforce and that it has been praised for being the first medical royal college to publicly acknowledge neurodivergent doctors. Being autistic and having lived experience can and will only improve doctors’ interactions with neurodivergent patients. Having a shared understanding is key and I hope some of this comes across in my cover design.
Find out more about Emily and her work from her website.