iOS 15 from an autistic perspective

iOS 15 from an autistic perspective

This week’s photos are from Leiden, Netherlands. We visited there summer 2015 on our way to Amsterdam. It was a beautiful quiet city that wasn’t too far from the European Space Agency. I could easily see myself living there if there was a place for open water swimming. It’s like a quiet Amsterdam.

You can get prints of the photos in this weeks newsletter on my print store or you can tip me on Ko-Fi so I can buy film for my camera.

What’s new iOS 15 from an autistic perspective

Last year when iOS 14 was announced I took a look at some of the new features that could be used to help with anxiety, depression, or being autistic. This week Apple announced iOS & iPad OS 15 along with updates to tvOS, macOS, watchOS and HomePod OS. All the great OSs. This year’s updates have a strong focus on accessibility and using Apple cleverness to try to make our lives easier to deal with instead of adding fancy features.

So what are the big new features and how will they help?

  • Focus Mode ++ anxiety / ADHD
  • Conversational Boost ++ auditory sensory issues
  • Translate ++ anxiety
  • Maps ++ anxiety
  • FaceTime Voice Isolation ++ anxiety
  • Photos Show Me Less ++ anxiety
  • Import audiograms ++ auditory sensory issues
  • Background sounds ++ ADHD / autism
  • Delayed Software Updates ++ anxiety

Focus Mode

This is one of the big key features of iOS 15. Focus Mode is an update to Do Not Disturb (DND). DND is pretty useful. You can already set your phone to DND until you leave a place or for a short time. It can also be enabled as part of the iOS Sleep system so you don’t get notifications before you go to bed allowing you to wind down. Focus Mode takes this a step further allowing you to create profiles based on work/personal/gaming/driving/anything. You can customise which apps and people can send you notifications, which home screen pages are visible, and enable time sensitive notifications so you don’t miss your Uber.

For example you could setup work to be scheduled from 9am till 5pm each weekday. It could setup your phone like so;

  • Home pages hide showing only business apps
  • Ignore messages from friends
  • Alert people who send you a message that you are trying to focus on work right now.
  • Mute notifications from non-work apps like Twitter, News, games

At 5pm the profile could switch from work to personal. Work home screens and apps would disappear. Notifications from work apps like email, social media, etc would be muted. It would be like putting the work phone away and picking up the evening phone. Nice eh?

So how does this help with anxiety or ADHD? Well for anxiety I think this will help me block out distractions during the day while I’m working. I can disable things that might be worrying me or triggering me and focus on work. I can disable social media and hide the apps so I’m not tempted to have a quick browse of Twitter or the news. In the evening I will be able to disconnect from work. Email off. I’ll be able to use my phone free of temptations to check something or worry that I’ll bump into something.

Conversational Boost

Conversational Boost requires AirPods to work. While wearing them it can boost the voice of the person you are looking at. I imagine that if you paired that with AirPods Pro which has noice cancellation features it could be really useful. I get sensory overload in bars, cafes, conferences, etc. I am unable to pick out the voice of the person I’m looking at and supposedly talking to. I hear everything around me all at the same time. This feature could be fantastic and essentially give me something neurotypical people take for granted. It could help reduce sensory overload and also anxiety because I wouldn’t be nodding in the right place pretending to hold a conversation with someone to avoid the social anxiety issue of “What? Sorry I can’t process your voice audio due to surrounding noise.” That said there’s the issue of wearing headphones while talking to someone. Hmm.


Apple has updated their Translate app to be system wide. At any point you can select text and translate it. The app also has a feature for more fluid conversation. So you can hold the phone between two people and talk naturally. The phone will translate on the fly. You won’t have to talk to the phone, wait, read, and pass back. Just talk. When I did travel I felt it was important to learn some local words as a sign of respect but not enough to really get around. It’s brilliant to know that on me I have a device that can get me out of any situation. Even in England where I supposedly know the language shopping or going to a restaurant can be a complicated mess. I like my burgers plain without sauce. Often the chef decides their version of plain differs from mine and I have to explain the issue to the waiter. It can be trying and can lead to shutdown. Imagine having to deal with that in a foreign country. Having a universal translator on me means I can relax a little.

iOS 15 goes a step further and allows for translation of text from images. Imagine the freedom of being able to go into any shop while travelling, scan the objects with your phone and understand the ingredients to avoid issues. I get low blood sugar and I rely on the ability to be able to walk into a shop and buy something sugary when need be. But combine that with taste sensory issues and I need to find the right thing to have. iOS 15’s Translate app is a real game changer that will make travelling a little bit less stressful.


Apple Maps has added an absurdly over engineered solution to the simple question of “Which way now?” Say you come out of a train station in a place you’ve never been and need to get your bearings. Well apparently with Apple Maps all you do is wave the phone around so the phone can see where you are and it will then point you in the right direction. It uses object detection to identify the buildings around you. It’s pretty clever and I hope it helps people but I can imagine coming out of a train station after a long trip desperately wanting to collapse in to bed and standing on a street corner waving your phone around shouting “Work damn it!”

FaceTime Voice Isolation

Voice Isolation has been added to FaceTime. This feature will better isolate your voice on FaceTime Audio and Video calls in noisy environments. This is really handy for being able to make you come across loud and clearly to the other person on the call. It’s a little thing but it can help reduce moments of anxiety.

Photos Show Me Less

The Photos app has a new feature to specifically say “Show me less” of someone, less of a day or less of a place. For example, this week my wife’s phone highlighted a photo of the hospital waiting room we spent a lot of time in while my dad’s health declined and he died. I think it is important to have a record of those memories but for when I want to access them not for when the phone thinks it’s cool to bring them to the surface. She would be able to say show less photos of the hospital.

I hope there are more features like this planned. We need to have mental health features built into phones and social networks. How often does Facebook show you something triggering because it apparently “cares” about you? It has no understanding of the photo and assumes that you would only ever put happy fun things into Facebook. That’s not life though and we do put a wide array of emotional data into our devices. At any moment this can all come back and it’s too much. More features like this please.

Import audiograms

iOS 15 allows you to import audiograms from hearing tests. It will then tailor the audio output for your hearing.

Background sounds

It does feel like Apple has gone all in on audio features this year. They’ve added, oddly deep inside the settings menu rather than its own app, background sounds. These are designed to help block out the world when you need to concentrate or make the world shut up. You could turn on the sound of a stream or rain as white noise while you work. It could help you find a moment of calm on a busy bus ride or in a chaotic cafe.

I hope that these features have Shortcuts support so I could create a easy to access Shortcut for them or even build them into a Shortcut to enable Background Sounds along with Focus Mode when I want to get serious work done.

This will help with my possible ADHD type inattentive when I need to focus or with my autistic sensory issues when the world is just too much and I want a calming break. I shouldn’t have to put loud music on all the time when things are too much so this is a nice option.

Delayed Software Updates

Lastly Apple have made a feature to delay software updates. I am the sort of person who has to ride the cutting edge. It satisfies my curiosity but also creates issues as beta or even final software can be buggy. This option is great for people who do want to keep their devices up to date for security reasons but maybe just want to give it a while before updating. They could enable this and breathe easily knowing that their devices are going to automatically kept up to date just a few days after everyone else just in case. It is rare that something bad happens but it has happened. Plus there are often scare stories in the press for misunderstood reasons. If you know your phone isn’t going to update right away you don’t have to worry.

I hope this round up of some of the new iOS 15 features from an autistic perspective is helpful to someone out there. These features aren’t just iOS related as some will synchronise with macOS and watchOS too.

Most of these updates will be out in September. macOS usually ships a bit later but as Apple is bringing everything closer together they may all ship the same week. If you want to stay up to date on developments I highly recommend or for podcasts.

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