Teaching Messaging to an Explorer: stay within the Notification budget

From the Smartphones for All chapter on messaging:

The first step in teaching messaging to an Explorer is to simplify the iPhone’s Messages.app as much as possible. I review this in the Setting up an Explorer’s iPhone chapter.  The iPhone’s Messages.app has become harder to use as Apple has added more features, but most Explorers seem able to work around the confusion.


If an Explorer has even modest reading abilities they will learn Messaging quickly. Using Messages.app to communicate from room to room in a house is one way to practice. Many families do this for neurotypicals, but for our Explorers this practice has been particularly helpful. I believe this is generally true for Explorers prone to intense focus or who use earphones to reduce distraction.

Once an Explorer is good at reading a message the next step is to encourage responses — typically by texting a question. There are many options here. “Y” or “N” are single letter responses to a yes or no question and the letter “k”is a widely recognized abbreviation for a neutral “ok” response. The iPhone’s autocorrect feature makes many Explorers more comfortable with longer text responses. Both Siri and the iPhone’s “speech to text” feature can be used to send verbal responses as text. Other Explorers may prefer to respond with emoji or even sound recordings (though the latter is a bit complex to do). There are many options to choose from.

The last step is initiating messages — typically a request for something. This is a small step beyond responding, and it’s easy to encourage by responding quickly and positively (when possible). Most Explorers, like most Messages.app users, will send a new message by tapping on an existing message collection rather than by browsing contacts or typing in a name. Alternatively, saying “Hey Siri, text Mum to get me a snack” works better than most Siri functions (see iPhone setup – Siri to learn how to teach Siri who “Mum” is).

Once an Explorer can receive, respond to and initiate messages the last step is managing group or “Chat” type messages. These are hard for everyone — all of us have accidentally message a group of people when we meant to message a single person. This can be more than a bit embarrasing; I hope future Messages.app improvements will make this easier to avoid. For many Explorers it may be best to avoid use of this feature in favor of a direct message. If a group message is being accidentally reused it can be deleted from an Explorer’s phone.

Messaging, by design, grabs the recipient’s attention. This isn’t too bad for a low volume of Messages, but every iPhone app is clamoring for attention. Almost all applications try to turn on all possible Notifications when they are installed.  Explorers will have low tolerance for unwanted interruptions and may end up turning off iPhone volume — defeating the value of Messages. The trick to prevent this problem is to regularly review the iPhone’s Notification settings and disable almost all notifications, leaving only those for Messages, Reminders, Calendars and the like (see Apple’s User Guide and Setting up an Explorer’s iPhone). 

Sadly this isn’t a one time chore, smartphone applications are alway fighting to enable Notifications, particularly when first installed. If an application’s Notification lust is truly annoying it may be due for deletion. 

Another way to reduce annoying Messaging interruptions is to enable the “Do Not Disturb” feature to accept messages only from “Favorites”, where a Favorite might be a Guide or sibling.  Our goal with Notifications is to make each one of them useful.

In the last resort an Explorer may be reminded that their iPhone is an important tool as well as a fun device, but I encourage optimizing Notifications first.

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