MAN Truck & Bus

“Autism is not a disease”

Portrait of Donimic Diers.

16 May 2023

Dominic Diers is autistic and has ADHD – and has had a successful career at MAN for almost twenty years. Today, he works as a Digitalization Expert Learning in the Sales & Customer Service Academy at MAN's headquarters in Munich. Since 2006, he has held several positions at MAN, from technical documentation to professional development and communications. An interview about autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the working world, his need for rules and structures in the team, and his hopes for neurodiverse people like him.

What do you think everyone should know about autism?

DOMINIC Autism is not a disease. I therefore say "I am autistic" and not "I have autism". Instead, it simply means to be neurologically different from the norm, but thus not wrong. I would like people to accept and acknowledge that there are individuals who think and perceive completely differently. People should preferably talk to us, rather than about us, so that autistic people are not excluded from their own topic debate.

How are autistic people doing in the work environment?

DOMINIC: We autistic people are often pushed into an outsider role, often experience rejection by the social environment, even to the point of social retaliation such as bullying. This is mainly due to the social non-conformity in our communication. Depending on the circumstances, we can be absolute low or high performers. These and other reasons mean that probably only five percent of us have a job, although many major innovations can be traced back to autists or people with ADHD. In order to get along in the best possible way in the working world, we often engage in extremely exhausting "masking" – we try to adapt as best we can and not stand out. Due to this constant stress, our life expectancy is statistically 16 years lower.

You describe yourself as neuro- and culturally diverse. What do you mean by that?

DOMINIC: As an autistic and ADHD person, I am neurodiverse. Due to the combination of both, my brain is extremely associatively networked. Constantly running associations trigger so many thoughts and ideas that my brain then simply takes its course and my focus slips. That's why, for example, only what I really need is on my desk. And I almost always wear headphones at work that block out ambient noise. Otherwise, too much distracts me.

I describe myself as culturally diverse because, as the child of a German emigrant family, I grew up in the U.S. until the age of 12, most of that time on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. What was special there was that almost all the islanders had an immigration background and therefore there was no "guiding culture". For us kids, it was completely normal that everyone spoke a different language at home, ate different food, had a different religion, celebrated different festivals, and had different habits. As an autistic person on this island full of diverse and open people, I did not stand out negatively at all and did not have any problems.

Does the combination with ADHD bring any other special features?

DOMINIC: The combination is like a special edition of neurodiversity, because of course there is a whole spectrum in autistics as well. Without ADHD, people are probably more introverted and structured. With the combination with ADHD, the creative, the "out of the box" thinking is even more pronounced. You can visualize it like this: ADHD is like the wind blowing in through the window, jumbling up the leaves on the table and assigning them to each other in a completely different way. This creates new associations and innovations can arise by chance.

How are you doing in the working world?

DOMINIC: I see myself as a "dog in a cat world" who is mistaken for a "sick cat". I only look like a cat, but I am a dog. I communicate differently, just like a dog that barks and jumps around. Cats perceive this as a threat and extend their claws. So this is a complete misunderstanding in communication. From the bad experiences you change and so the dog starts to try to behave like a cat. This sometimes works more and sometimes less.

I see myself as a dog in a cat world

Dominic Diers

What kind of environment do you need to feel comfortable and productive in your work?

DOMINIC: If there is clarity, role commitment and discipline in adhering to rules in the team, then I'm doing well. Then I can deliver perfectly and become a high performer. That's why we autistic people are very formal, procedural and love rules. The more unclear situations are, the more open and chaotic it is, the worse I feel. Then I am perceived as an under-performer. But of course I still want to do a good job, so I need an extreme amount of energy. Managers should understand that for me, rules and structures are not just a "nice to have," but the condition for good work. It's like a sports car: It's fast on the race track, but off the paved road it simply doesn't get anywhere.

What else is supportive for you at work?

DOMINIC: The so-called "monkey time", when you metaphorically swing the liana from branch to branch, i.e. the time to adjust to another topic, is relatively long for me and other autistic people. When I am pulled out of my hyperfocus at work, it takes me a very long time to adjust to the next topic. This is also relevant when assigning tasks.

Which activities are easy and fun for you? What are you particularly good at?

DOMINIC: Despite my need for structure and rules, I love the creative, like copywriting or media production – but I like to do so in a framework such as an editorial manual. With the spontaneous ideas and connections of strange things that often come into my head, I'm also good at finding creative solutions to problems.

What would you want for yourself and other autistic people now and in the future?

DOMINIC: The most important thing is that no one has to be ashamed of themselves as an autistic person. We are not the same, we are different from neurologically typical people. We speak unfiltered and sometimes encounter sensitivities. This is not a bad intention and does not contain any hidden negative messages, but simply results from the fact that we autistic people communicate primarily on the factual level. I would like to have some understanding for this way of communicating, which is sometimes perceived as communicative clumsiness.

What message do you want to send to colleagues?

DOMINIC: Have courage on all sides! I would like to give courage to the still hidden autistic people to come out. Dare to reveal what you are like and what problems you have. Do not fall into the trap of wanting to be able to do what others can do. And don't try to "mask" yourself, but stand by the fact that you are different. And I would like to call on everyone else to have more courage to question themselves, to move away from personal sensitivities and instead to recognize that the other person only has a different – not wrong – way of communicating.

Diversity & Incluision at MAN

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Diversity & Inclusion at MAN is part of a broader sustainability approach that describes the development of our company, our products and our services in collaboration with our suppliers, our customers and our sites. Employees with different perspectives are better at identifying problems, finding new solutions, and understanding customers' needs. Differences strengthen us. That's why we want to harness the potential of diversity in our company in order to achieve maximum business success.

Find out more about Diversity & Inclusion at MAN.

Text: Renate Wachinger

Photos: MAN

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