For 30 years, Ashlea McKay was treated as if there was something different about her.
She had experienced decades of being told she was weird or inappropriate by friends and colleagues and agonised over why she struggled to fit in.
After a friend was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, in her early 30s, Ms McKay jokingly told her she probably had an undiagnosed condition too.
She mulled it over and eventually decided to go and find out. At the age of 29, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
"I'd spent the first 30 years of my life believing I was this horrible person, but really I just had the wrong framing for how I live and how I experience the world," Ms McKay said.
"Something that's normal for me might not be normal for someone else, and the other way around.
"I was angry that people had easily written me off as some kind of monster."
Since coming out of what she calls the "rainbow glitter closet", the Canberran has made it a point to live her life proudly as an autistic woman.
"It's not my imaginary friend and I don't keep it in my purse," Ms McKay said.
But being open about her autism hasn't always been received positively, she said. It took her nearly three years to land her current job as a user experience professional at Synergy Group following her late diagnosis.
"The way people viewed me changed a lot. There's a lot of stigma around autism and people would suddenly be like, 'Oh, okay, no'," she said.
"I saw offers disappearing off tables [after telling people of the diagnosis].
"But I feel like after living 30 years in the dark, I needed to live openly."
It's a big reason why she's calling on employers, especially those in government, to make changes to encourage, and hire, more neurodiverse applicants in the workplace.
Neurodivergence refers to variation in the human brain and includes those with neurological conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia along with autism.
She felt the reason it took so long for her to gain employment after being open about her diagnosis was because of the negative preconceptions hiring managers had about it.
"The biggest barrier by far is mindset," Ms McKay said.
"Employers have to have the mindset that autism is a completely normal, natural human thing that is welcome in the workplace.
"It's not a problem to be solved. It's not some risk. It's not an issue. It's just a different set of needs that just need different considerations."
Aside from the implications of discriminating against neurodivergent applicants, she said hiring more diverse applicants made sense in order to better represent the interests of a more diverse community.
In a government workforce, she said, this was even more crucial.
"You will have a workforce that better reflects the community you serve," Ms McKay said.
"[Neurodivergent people] are so diverse in our skills, experiences and interests but the big thing is that we bring a perspective that doesn't often exist in workplaces.
"There's so much diversity within our community and intersectionality adds all these extra layers that completely change our experiences."
The Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report 2019-20 showed around 4 per cent of public servants reported having a disability to human resources systems, while around 8 per cent identified as having a disability in the anonymous 2019 employee census.
To address the stigma, the government late last year announced a new strategy it hopes will increase the employment of people with disabilities from 3.7 per cent to 7 per cent by 2025.
In the meantime, Ms McKay uses her spare time and role as the Australian Computer Society's national diversity & inclusion councillor to advocate for more inclusive practices across other workplaces.
The hope is that one day disclosing a disability or living life as an openly disabled person won't be a barrier for promotions or future work.
"We should all have the opportunities to live the way we choose," she said.
"You get to choose what your life looks like. If you want to be open and authentic, you should have that."