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Faux pas and other social issues

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I often seem to say the wrong thing or too much.  Put my foot in it you might say.  Sometimes everyone does this, but I find myself doing this rather a lot.  Part of the reason could be my autism, but I am not always able to tell what is due to my autism and what is a mistake most people could make.

I am told I can be very blunt, meaning I simply say what I think without social niceties.  I do not see why I should not say things as they are; it seems pointless to pretend otherwise to me.  Although obviously even I can tell certain situations require subtlety.  I can often tell when others are using social niceties and most of the time I do not mind, but sometimes I would prefer a straight answer.  I think people can mistake my bluntness for deliberate rudeness which can be annoying.  I tend to get this from people who know me less well.

I am also told I talk way too much at times.  There are times I could of stopped talking about an issue a few sentences back and may have gotten away with not saying the wrong thing if I had stopped talking about it sooner.  However I can struggle to tell if I am over discussing a topic sometimes.  I may also bore people with my long rambles on an issue they are not so interested in.  I have this urge to get all my thoughts out on a topic to someone at times.  I feel like I may burst if I do not say it.  Part of it could be I over think a lot of things to the point my mind feels full and I simply have to unload.  A bit like some of my blog posts I suppose.  I do find writing about a topic helpful.

I find certain social situations harder than others to know what or how much I should say.  I find situations I have experienced less often harder.  Practise has helped me get better in a lot of situations.  I think I am getting better at chatting in pubs, cafes and at family dinners, although not always exactly getting it right.  I find certain people easier to chat with as I know what I can get away with saying with them.  Family members and friends I see more regularly are easier on the whole, but people I see less often and new folk can be harder.  I often end up being way too blunt for them or talking so much they get annoyed or walk away.

Social media is often easier for me.  I enjoy chatting online, but sarcastic comments can be lost on me, although I get the very obvious ones.  Without facial expression or voice tone sarcasm can be tricky for anyone.  I also find some people who do not know me can be offended by my comments.  Bluntness strikes again!  I try to make my comments not appear rude, but now and then some people just take them the wrong way.  In these situations I often stop responding to them as it is not worth an argument.  Although I have occasionally purposefully been rude back to show them that their comments are wrong or unhelpful or just me getting annoyed, then I step away from it.  I have found that turning off comment notifications can be helpful.

I try to remember to think before I speak in certain situations.  However I find this tricky when I get onto certain topics I am very passionate about or in a heated debate.  I guess that this could be common for a lot of people though when things get heated people say things in the moment.

Another thing that has been pointed out to me is that my voice can get monotonous, although I like to think my background in drama has helped make it less so over the years.  I certainly think my speech was less varied as a child, which must have become tedious to listen to after a while for some people.  I can become monotonous again now when rambling, but having been made aware I do this I often try to not allow it to happen too much.  In drama classes we learnt about inflection and emphasizing certain words which was useful for me.  I feel drama has a lot skills high functioning autistics could find helpful and taking a few classes would be beneficial for a lot of autistic people.

What I find annoying is when people stereotype how they think I will be in social situations.  Firstly I actually enjoy socialising which surprises some people who think autistics all enjoy being left alone on their own all the time.  Sure I need alone time, everyone does, but too much alone time makes me feel lonely.  Plus my OCD and other anxieties can get worse if I spend too long alone with my own thoughts.  Secondly I do go to pubs and drink alcohol.  (OK I spent nine months last year t-total, but that was not me avoiding alcohol for autistic reasons, that was a whole other thing you can read about in a previous post should you wish.)  I am not a heavy drinker and can go for weeks at a time not drinking, but I have been drunk before more than once and may well be drunk again.  There is often an assumption that autistics cannot stand booze and find pubs too noisy, which although often true, is not always the case.  I have heard that autistic people have no sense of humour.  Wrong!  I do take a lot of things more seriously than some people, maybe too seriously at times, but I certainly enjoy a laugh.  Not only do I like many sit-coms, comedy films and stand –up comedians, I can enjoy laughing in a social setting with friends.  I can see the funny side of drunken mishaps and can laugh when friends recount amusing stories.  As for the autistic people are introvert and quite thing and do not talk unless directly spoken to or even are totally mute, well this could not be further from the truth in my case.  As I wrote earlier I am more likely to over talk and say too much.  Also I will talk to people who have not directly spoken specifically to me, but more generally to everyone in a room.

Autism is not an excuse to be deliberately rude to someone and it is not an excuse to take over a conversation and have the most say about an issue, but it can mean someone may not know they are doing this.  Sometimes it helps if other people around them give them some understanding and do not just assume they are being rude.  It can help if people point out what they are doing, although with tact and quietly not in front of everyone, if an appropriate moment comes up to do so

 

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Why did I even bother to be diagnosed at all?

I was diagnosed as Aspergers Autistic aged thirty-one. A few people asked my why I needed or wanted to be diagnosed at that age, what difference could it make to my life now I had already got that far into adulthood? Well…

It was a relief to have the diagnosis. I had suspected I was autistic for some years and my mum had been reading up on it when I was a teenager. She knew there was something different with my brain, I was just so unlike others. Having suspected it for years it confirmed things for me and my family. It proves what I thought about myself which was I can not help being the way that I am sometimes. Also confirming the type of autism gave me a clearer idea of things.

Having an explanation for being slightly different or awkward really helps at times. I have been called selfish, attention seeking and rude by numerous people over the years when I am actually trying my hardest to fit in and do not mean to appear that way at all. Even worse is when people accuse me of these things when I am really struggling and having a melt down. Saying such things will often just prolong the melt down or makes me more likely to have another one. At least now I can say I am autistic and am trying my best, please try to be understanding. Being autistic is not an excuse to get your own way or to knowingly be rude to someone, but when I do not mean to be it helps to explain things to people. If someone then says I can not possibly be autistic, as has happened in the past, I can now say I have been officially diagnosed by professionals.

Being diagnosed officially helps when claiming benefits. Getting Employment Support Allowance and other benefits is often hard and saying you suspect you have a condition does not count, you need a professional diagnosis in your notes. Last time I was assessed it was tricky to prove my need for ESA when I was yet to be tested for autism. I had a support worker who stood up for me which helped a great deal, but I no longer have a support worker so if my claim comes up for assessment again I will need this diagnosis more than ever.

I now feel more justified spending time researching Aspergers and autism. I can find other people with autism who I can identify with at least in part and say me too, helping me feel less of an outsider.

If you spent your entire childhood and youth feeling different and like you did not fit in would you not want to confirm why this was? For my own peace of mind I needed to know for sure.

My Monthly Rant (sorry guys!)

‘Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.’ In this case about periods or menstrual cycles as they are also known. Periods are something all women experience (bar medical reasons) and when mine started I knew this. However this did not help me to feel any better about them. I know most girls find periods a bit scary or worrying at fist and take time to adjust to them, but I totally hated them. I became afraid of my periods. As someone with OCD the messiness of them did my head in. I struggled with sanitary pads since I always had issues with certain things against my skin, which is an autistic trait I had much more when younger. I briefly tried tampons, but with my bad hip struggled to use them. Then there were the stomach cramps which at times had me doubled over in pain crying. Puberty and hormones are all part of being a teenager, but add in autism and OCD and you get one very messed up person. I hated how periods made me feel mentally each month. In the end the anxiety got so bad my mum took me to see the doctor.

The doctor put me on ‘the pill’ which was life changing. I had more control over when I had a period, so could time it for when I had less stressful things going on. The pill made my periods a bit lighter which made them easier to deal with. My stomach cramps became less frequent and less intense. Gradually I became less afraid of my periods and learnt to cope with them. I am very grateful my mum took me to the doctor and got me on the pill, which I still use to this day.

I got used to sanitary pads in the end. I learned which ones I found most comfortable and worked for my needs. However over the years buying pads has become trickier. They keep coming up with new versions and the choice is now huge. I can spend ages in some shops just staring at the range of pads trying to find the ones I want. I also find a kind I like, and then they change them or stop stocking them. I would rather they kept it simple. I mean who an earth came up with ‘wings’, are my pads supposed to fly?! I think the idea is they are supposed to keep the pad from bunching up so it stays flat, but in my experience they tend to make things worse if anything. Before you even use the wings I find they often stick to themselves. I like the pads without wings, which you can still get, but are becoming increasingly rare. Larger shops tend to still stock then, but smaller shops often do not. Then there are pads with added fragrance, often aloe-Vera, which considering how many women are sensitive in that area seems daft. The fragrance can irritate and make things sore and just how much are other people going to smell a woman’s intimate area anyway? A fairly new one is ‘discreet’ pads. Supposedly rustle free wrapping for use in public toilets (although they don’t seem all that rustle free to me). However as a woman in woman’s toilets I do not mind if I hear other women unwrapping pads, it is hardly unexpected or offensive. Besides I hardly ever notice the noise from other cubicles anyway and it was a non issue for me.

Some sanitary pads seem ludicrously expensive, I will admit I do not use the cheapest brands, they feel plastic like and often do not stick down well, but the mid price range seem fine to me. Although sometimes you have to use what you can get in an emergency. Recently I saw an article online about tax on sanitary wear, often known as ‘the tampon tax’. It is wrong to tax sanitary wear when other items deemed essential are not taxed or at least have reduced tax. Although one woman was quoted as spending at least £10 a month on her sanitary wear which is far more than I have ever paid. I do realise how lucky I am to have cotton soft pads now. My mum told me about sanitary belts which sound very uncomfortable and tedious. They were an elastic belt used to hold pads in place before the invention of self-adhesive pads.

Is it just me or are adverts for sanitary products really daft? I do not do most of the things the women in the adverts do even during the rest of the month when I am not on my period. I have a really good sanitary product now so I can do anything, no, it does not make me super woman. Then there are the adverts trying to sell my pads almost as if they were a fashion product with pretty floral designer pattern on them, err why? I don’t care if you draw floral patterns on the pads or not, what I want to know is do they stick well and do they absorb well?!

I am now fine with my periods mostly. This may sound daft, but I am actually quite proud of myself for overcoming this issue. I am glad I live in a more open time when periods can be discussed more than they used to be and sex education in schools is getting better. I found the talk the school nurse gave us in year seven (aged eleven/ twelve) somewhat helpful. However I do think some girls need more support in learning to cope with periods, especially special needs girls with learning difficulties or anxiety related conditions or autism. Girls need help with the emotional side of periods as well as the practical physical side. I am very glad my mum never hid periods from me and I always knew they were something to expect. It must be terrifying to get one without knowing what it is, which I gather used to happen more than it does now.

Before anyone male complains I know boys also have puberty and hormonal issues, especially as teenagers, but not being male I have nothing I can say on this, other than I think they also need good sex education in school and probably more emotional support than they often get.

Some things I hate

I Hate…

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OCD, on certain days it really controls me and seems to take over. My worst traits at the moment are often to do with my hair having to be perfectly neat and my bedtime routine. On days when I am really struggling with my OCD I can be afraid to go to bed. OCD nags at me and gets exhausting at times. I am glad not all days are as bad as others.

Being autistic at a confusing level. Being Asperger or high functioning level means that I am more than aware I am autistic, but still seem to have very little control over it, so I just know I mess up a lot. Being aware of my faults, but unable to do much about them is very frustrating.

When I clearly have said something wrong and upset someone, but am not quite sure what I said that was wrong. Knowing me I spoke my mind too freely, said too much or I have been told I can come across as somewhat self centred, but I never mean to. Then if you ask someone what you did wrong not knowing sometimes makes you appear even more self centred.

My anxiety issues with people I care about. I worry too much if they are happy or content when with me and sometimes ask if they are OK too many times, till they get annoyed with me. When alone I can annoy myself by worrying if they miss me as much as I miss them or is it a relief for them to have a break from me? I am often unsure of the right balance between giving someone space and showing I care.

My mind in one of its frequent over thinking states when I am alone. I end up getting emotional or anxious, over dramatising things in my head. I can work myself up into a sad or angry state.

How tired I feel a lot of the time. Day time naps no longer seem to help as much as they used to. Often I feel drained or lethargic. Is it my OCD and anxiety that cause it?

People who say things like ‘you’ve done so well considering’ or ‘you’re so brave’ or give you that look as if to say ‘ah bless the special needs person’. I know they mean well, but it is patronising. How do they know that actually for me I am having a bad day and on a good day I can actually pass them by unnoticed and do not come across as special needs at all.

How messed up my posture is from my hip issue. Years of limping and using walking aids such as crutches have left me with shoulder, neck and back problems. They can really hurt at times. My spine now has a slight curve and I am often rounded at the shoulders. On bad days it can cause me to walk somewhat wrong and give me pain in my feet. I hate knowing that as I age this might get worse and I could be one of those bent over old people you see that can hardly stand upright. I do exercises most days that were given to me by physiotherapy, they do not take long and do help somewhat with the pain, but they will never cure it and are tedious to do when I am not in the right mood.

People who say getting a job is easy if I really wanted one. They do not know how hard I tried to get paying work. They should try it with autism, mental health issues, benefit money issues and living in a small seaside town.

Depression days that are so crippling now and then I can not even dress and leave my flat. These are the days when my mental health issues win. I let people down, spend too much time alone and then end up annoyed with myself. I am too low to fully function and my OCD too bad to dress fully.

I am not saying things are always this bad, but during bad phases these are the things that get me down. I think writing them down and sharing them with others helps me feel less anxious about them somewhat.

Communication

I communicate a lot with my family and friends electronically using text messages, social media and email. I know a lot of people communicate this way now, but it has been brought to my attention that I may do this more than most people my age. This post looks at why I like to use electronic communication so much.

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Practicality

My relatives live spread out across the country in many different counties. I also have friends that live a long way from me that I met at university. I find the internet a fantastic way to stay in touch with people at a distance. I send letters and cards by post, more than a lot of people do these days, but post takes time and often I want a much quicker response. Also the cost of postal services seems to be getting more and more expensive.

Staying in Touch

I would of lost contact with a lot of people if it was not for Facebook. This includes friends from university, people I met at various events and distant relatives. I have never had many friends and would like to keep the ones I have got. I also managed to get back in touch with a few friends from school that I had previously not spoken with in many years.

Generational

From about my age group and below it just seems to be the natural way people communicate. Although some do so less than others, it is common to use Facebook messenger to stay in touch with friends and even family. Text messaging seems to be becoming normal for people of all age groups now including my parents generation. I am a little bit too old to have had a mobile phone or the internet as a small child, but since I was about fourteen I have regularly used the internet to chat with friends. I got my first mobile phone when I was about sixteen when I decided it would be practical since I was at college and that is what everyone else was using. A lot of my university friends are three or four years younger than me and some of them seem to use electronic communications as much as I do. They grew up with it from a younger age so it is what they are used to. At university I actually would have missed out on things if I was not on Facebook. We would invite each other to parties and nights out using Facebook as it was a great way to invite a lot of people at once. We would use Facebook messenger to group chat as it was very handy for us as drama students to share ideas or work out rehearsal times for our practicals.

Autism Friendly

My autism sometimes makes face to face chat harder for me than it might be for some people. I struggle with eye contact; even my diagnostic report says that I do. When I talk I tend to get carried away and say too much or the wrong thing. When I have to write down what I want to say first either online or in a text message it means I can look back at it and have time to think about what I am saying. It means I am less likely to say the wrong thing and can cut out the waffle, get to the point better. It is common for autistic people to use the internet to chat; it has less social skills to learn, although there are some social rules and I by no means always get them right online. I do enjoy face to face chat, but it can be more tiring for me sometimes and often requires more effort, although this depends who I am talking to and on the situation. Face to face people use non-verbal communication such as body language which can be tricky for autistics to pick up on. There is less hidden meaning in written text chat. I feel like I am more in control with this way of chatting. I do not have to talk to someone when I am not in the mood. If I am having a bad day mentally I can chose to ignore a text message or email and deal with it later when I am more able to. This way I do not upset people and take my bad moods out on them. I do use the phone, but have never been totally comfortable with it. Once I start chatting on the phone I often relax and am fine, but the initial thought of it sometimes makes me anxious. So text messaging is often easier for me. (Although I am getting better with making phone calls and do makes calls when I need to.) Another thing I like about written communication is the more definite response rather than ‘hmm’ or a nod of the head that I can often misunderstand. Even an OK or emoticon is at least a response that shows they took on board what I was saying. I find there is less pressure and less hassle with this way of communicating.

Can Just Say It

I like how I can say what I need to whilst I think of it with electronic communication. If I am not sure if someone is free to chat at the time I can still text or email for them to read later before I forget what I was going to say. Plus sometimes I have to say stuff as I get anxious if I do not. I worry if I do not say certain things as soon as I can to people. I do not mind if people read it later as long as I know it is out there.

Writing is my Skill

Writing is something I am quite good at and I feel confident at it. When talking in person it sometimes gets misunderstood. When I write I seem better at putting at my point across.

How Others Want to Communicate

It often seems to be how others want to communicate with me. Maybe they find it easier as I can bore people with my over talking in person. Also I have no land line phone and calling a mobile phone can be costly so maybe texting or emailing is just cheaper for people. I have relatives who email me rather than phone. I think this could be as they do not know when I am free to talk and do not want to disturb me if busy. I Facebook with some relatives responding to statues and comments as it seems a good way to communicate with each other when we do not actually know each other very well in person. This way I am getting to know them without so much pressure. I text with some family since they are often busy and they do not have time to see me face to face or phone very often.

This way of communicating does come with its own problems. When I do not want to talk I can chose not to, but in turn others can do the same to me. If people ignore me for short periods I am fine, but if it goes on for long periods it can worry me. The trouble is these days people are often expected to be instantly available 24 hours a day when it is not always possible. Another problem is of course when technology lets us down. What with lack of phone signal or devices breaking down or running out of charge sometimes old fashioned post or face to face is just easier.

I do not mind which way people choose to communicate with me, be it face to face or electronically. It is just nice when people want to chat with me.

Social skills are just that, a skill

‘A social skill is any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization. For socialization, Interpersonal skills are essential to relate one another.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_skills).

You may not think that socialising requires a set of skills, but it does. Some people are better at these skills than others. I found learning these skills difficult and still struggle with them at times. I am getting better at socialising, but still have things to learn.

After a while a lot of people tire of me. I know I can be hard work to spend a lot of time with. In fact I find myself hard work to spend a lot of time with, hence I do not like to be alone for too long. The trouble is I also find socialising hard work sometimes so things do not always go smoothly. On a bad day when I am tired or something has annoyed me I can get worse at dealing with people.

I try to join in conversations with others, but sometimes seem to bore people. My recent autism diagnosis report says I sometimes miss social cues from others and my conversation can lack flexibility. So I guess it can seem like I am giving a lecture which has to be tedious for those listening. To make matters worse the report also says my speech can lack variation in pitch at times which could make me sound like a robot stating facts. If I had not studied drama I dread to think how even more dull my speech could sound. (I think my drama training has helped me understand others a bit better, especially when it comes to reading emotions.)

I can go into excessive detail at times and do not always realise others have lost interest according to my autism report. Since reading my report I have noticed sometimes when people are trying to move conversation on and I am trying to allow conversation to flow more, but it is not always easy for me. When I am passionate about a topic I tend to get carried away. However I realise not everyone is interested in the same things as me to the same degree.

I seem to struggle when people do not sure my point of view. I know others will have different opinions on things and I am fine with this in theory, but sometimes in discussions I find myself not excepting that people may think differently about something from me. I am told I can come across as dictatorial at times, but I honestly do respect other people’s opinions. I am trying to work on coming across better.

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I am argumentative which obviously is not a good thing. I do not always think I am right and do not think I know it all. I am often wrong about things, but have been told I can come across as a know it all sometimes. This is not how I feel about myself and do not like this description of me. I need to let others speak more, interrupt less and at times bite my tongue. Sometimes saying nothing can be better than saying something that upsets people. Knowing when to express my opinions is tricky. Sometimes it feels as if people would prefer me to act brain-dead and follow the heard so to speak, regardless of my own thoughts. Maybe I do not express myself well and my points come across wrong. I have been accused of being overly negative and selfish quite a few times, which I really try not to be and hope to change to this opinion some people have of me. Although lately I am starting to think it does not matter what some people think of me as it will not actually affect my life long-term anyway.

'How do you think I ended up alone on the top of a mountain?'

I often find large social gatherings hard work. They are often fun, but require a lot of effort as there is usually a wide range of people to negotiate. I have often been known to end up saying the wrong thing to someone and only realising ages later or someone points it out to me.

If you could take a class on social skills for adults I would. Adults are expected to have picked up social skills as a child, and although I did to some extent, clearly I still have a lot to learn.

Thoughts on why I am still unemployed

‘Many managers make a hiring decision within the first 90 seconds of meeting you’ (Clare Whitmell writing in the Guardian).  The exact time of judgement in an interview varies according to different sources, but all agree it is within the first few minutes.  As an autistic person I think this puts me at a disadvantage.  I do not think I always make a very good first impression.  I take a few minutes to work some situations out.  My OCD often plays up when I first enter a new situation, with me worrying about my hair or clothing.  It often depends how stressed or nervous I am beforehand, which can often be related to how well my journey to the place went.  Once the interview really gets going and I am distracted my OCD almost always dies down and I am fine again.

I think interviews are often not suited to autistic people.  I like to plan ahead, at least in my head, but I often can’t do this very well for interviews as I often do not know what kind of interview it will be.  Will it be one on one, a panel, a group interview with tasks, who knows?  This means I can be thrown in at the deep end, although sometimes employers do give you a good idea of what will happen in advance and this can help.  I prefer one on one interviews mostly as they are a lot less stressful with only one person to focus on at a time.

I am aware that I often talk way too much, so in an interview I try to say less.  However I think sometimes I end up not saying enough and going too quite in interviews.  I struggle to get the balance between saying too much or too little.  I have always been bad at picking up on social cues as to when I should and should not speak.

Maybe I just do not interview well and it has nothing to do with my autism, but I suspect it has at least something to do with it.  I have had so many interviews and yet still have no job.  I cannot think of another reason for it in most cases.  I dress well, turn up on time, answer all the questions sensibly and am always polite.  Employers are often vague as to why they did not hire me, leaving me to suspect that I come across as somewhat odd or ‘special’.

I might be going for the wrong type of work that does not suite me, but I am not sure what other kinds of work I should go for or how you even get other kinds of jobs.  I would really like some decent careers advice, but this seems surprisingly hard to get.  The Job Centre were less than helpful, asking me what kinds of work I would like, rather than trying to find out if a different kind of work would suite me better.  (After over two years in the system you might think they would.)  I have done almost all the courses the Job Centre has to offer.  I can get the interview, for me that is the easy part, which is annoying as once you reach interview the Job Centre seem to think that is it.  Job courses seem aimed at people who lack any kind of qualifications which is not the case for me.  Courses very rarely spend much time on interview techniques and seem to concentrate on the CV and job searching stage.

It has been suggested by numerous people that self-employment is the way to go.  However they never suggest what work I should do to achieve this.  I do not have a hard skill such as plumbing or carpentry that people need and despite trying cannot think of a good business idea.  Also once you start your own business the benefits you are on get cut and what am I supposed to live on whilst I wait for the business to make a profit, if it ever does?  Plus I want a job that gets me out of my flat, not stuck working from home.  Too much time alone is not good for me.  I know autistics are often said to prefer being alone and I do like time to myself, but too much time alone and my own thoughts start driving me mad.  I end up over thinking with my OCD getting worse and my anxiety flaring up.

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ as the expression goes.  Clearly this is true as some people seem to get a job from knowing someone in the company and not from being very good at it.  However most people I know are also unemployed or retired and were in the wrong line of work for me when they did have a job.

Someone suggested I try the online careers planner from Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk/planner).  It asks a lot of work and personality related questions and then suggests suitable jobs for you.  Almost all of the job suggestions it made for me were obscure and not very realistic outside of a major city.  The first job it suggested was a trade union research officer, a job I have never heard of before, let alone seen advertised.

I think I would suit office work, but not really sure how to go about getting it.  I looked at NHS administration jobs as it was yet another suggestion from someone, but a lot of the jobs require you to know how to use computer programs I have not heard of and I suspect mean they are looking for internal candidates who have learnt to use these NHS only programs.  How an earth do you learn to use them in the first place and get your foot in the door?  A lot of office administration work these days requires you to be able to do a lot more than it used to such as accounts and pay role so they do not have to hire another person to do that.  I do not trust my maths skills to do accounts and doubt I could do pay role either.

People judge me too quickly.  I would love a chance to prove myself to an employer, but they never give me time.