In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, which is observed each April in the United States, we bring you the story of a Cigna employee living with autism: Jennifer, a patient care advocate for Express Scripts Pharmacy, who was diagnosed with Level 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) high-functioning, often called Asperger's syndrome.
Jennifer is one of approximately 5.5 million adults in the U.S. with ASD, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates. In addition, the CDC statistics show that about 1 in 44 children have been diagnosed with ASD. In the interview below, Jennifer shares a bit about herself, her day-to-day life, and her job.
Tell us about yourself and your job.
I am 44 years old, the mother of two girls and two boys. My two grandbabies were born in 2021.
I like reading books and watching sci-fi movies and TV shows, superhero movies, Harry Potter, vampire movies, and sagas. I also like reading about genetic studies, DNA and research on telomeres and reversing the aging process. Other exciting research and progress is being made with stem cells.
See, there goes my Asperger's, as I am expounding on stuff that most people would be like, "What?"
I was in my mid-30s when I received my autism diagnosis, Level 1 ASD high-functioning, specifically Asperger's. It was a relief to receive a diagnosis and understand why I am so different from the average member of society and the human population.
I have worked for Express Scripts for 13 years. I’m a patient care advocate, taking calls from members who are on Medicare and from members of the U.S. military, their families, and military retirees. I help people with questions about their pharmacy benefit, place orders for refills, renewals, and new prescriptions, and assist with any issues.
I’ve been working from home since our office closed due to COVID in March of 2020. Working at home took a bit to get used to. I miss seeing some of my coworkers in person, going out to lunch with them, and eating together in our breakroom. What I like about W@H is that I can wear my jammies or regular comfortable attire, I can plug in my heating pad at my desk, and I have a microwave, mini-fridge, and a coffeemaker nearby. I’m also happy that I don’t have to participate in the rat race of driving to work and then back home. When I’m done, I just log off and walk out of the office.
How does autism present in your life?
Being a high-functioning autistic individual, I am not impacted by my autistic tendencies the way some people are. But I have a hard time with social interactions such as nonverbal cues, and I have almost no sense of humor. I have a hard time getting jokes, double entendres or double-speak, double-edged swords, I just don't get it. There are parlor games people play with family or friends and I would not do well, especially if I had to guess what the person was trying to allude to.
I also have a hard time expressing empathy. If someone says something where most people would cry, or if they are dealing with an emotional individual, I may have an inappropriate response or I may not display any emotion at all. I am in my head at those times, trying to decide how to respond, or I may choose to not respond because I am uncomfortable.
I am impulsive, I can be spontaneous, and I have a hard time waiting my turn. I don't mind large crowds at a theme park, but I don't like crowds when I'm in the grocery store. If the grocery store is disorganized and I can't find what I want, I will get mad.
At work, I have a hard time making empathetic statements to acknowledge a situation or issue. This is not to say that I don’t have empathy, but I can be a bit transactional and take many things literally. I also can miss callers’ cues that I should express empathy.
Before we started working from home, I used to get bent out of shape if people moved things around on my desk. When I moved to a new desk, everything needed to be put back just so, or I couldn't take my phone calls because I was distracted by the need to put my stuff back the way I like it.
My patience level is very low, and I interrupt – but not out of rudeness. I have to work really, really hard to overcome the urge to interrupt. I have conversations with friends, family, or at work, and I tell myself, I'm not going to let my Asperger's mess up my conversation. Half the time it does anyway.
I'm an adult and I’m still a work in progress. It’s not bad home-training as a child, I'm just wired differently and have to work five times harder to fit in with what is considered normal or acceptable.
I also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and I'm mixed bipolar. I can hyperfocus, and I can get distracted, I have severe time management issues, and am a master procrastinator. That’s not because I’m being lazy; I don't want to procrastinate, but I have a hard time getting stuff started. So imagine being like me, a mostly normal functioning member of society, who is a bit odd when socializing and also has ADHD to boot.
What misconceptions do people have around autism?
A misconception about autism is that we don't like to be touched. That is true for some, but not all, people who are autistic. Another one is that we don't feel love. We do, some just have a hard time expressing it. Our issues with social interactions often play a part in that misconception.
I have been like this all my life and I can't be cured. There is no fixing me, as I am not broken. Just a bit different, and I have learned that it is okay to be special and super awesome.
How Evernorth is working to help people with autism spectrum disorder
Learn about the first-of-its-kind partnership to establish quality performance metrics and drive improvements in quality of therapy for autism spectrum disorder.