The Best Interactive Museums for Neurodivergent Minds
Cultural spaces broaden our perspectives, celebrate innovation, and encourage multisensory learning. For all these reasons and more, ADDitude readers love them. Here are the ones they recommend for other neurodivergent visitors.
The best museums offer hands-on, interactive opportunities to learn. They are multisensory and experiential. They make history feel more real, science feel more exciting, and art feel more personal. They are also easy to navigate and they take care to meet the needs of all their visitors — even those prone to overstimulation, understimulation, and sometimes both simultaneously.
These were the insights from a recent ADDitude survey of nearly 200 readers, 87% of whom say they visit museums and cultural spaces at least once a year. Here, they recommend their very favorite museums across the United States, ones they feel are “particularly well-equipped for neurodivergent children and their families.” What favorite institutions or spaces would you add to this list?
East Coast Museums
“Some museums require a lot of reading. I live near D.C. and the Smithsonians have SO much to offer. The newer ones have taken big steps towards inclusivity, creating exhibits that meet the needs of different learning styles and levels of understanding.”
“The quintessential New England town of Mystic, Connecticut, is a favorite weekend destination of ours because the awesome Beluga whales and penguins of the Mystic Aquarium are just down the street from the free-roaming Mystic Seaport. Kids can climb on 19th century whaling ships, take canoes and little sailboats out on the Mystic River, make wooden toy boats, and just run around free in this self-contained remake of a whaling village. It’s hands-on exploration in a beautiful spot.”
“The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia offers lots of sensory play for different levels and ages. Kids can move at their own pace.”
“The SEE Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire, is mostly hands-on and self-guided.”
“The Indianapolis Art Museum has an immersive experience in their LUME exhibit that takes classic artists like Van Gogh and Monet and projects their art on the walls and floors of the gallery, so you literally feel like you’re IN the art. There is soft music that plays to the experience and a large, open floor plan which allows plenty of room to sit on the floor and watch or even walk different rooms. It’s an incredibly unique experience I recently discovered that completely changed the way I would like to experience art exhibits.”
“The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, has a huge variety of ways to interact: Outdoor exhibits, hand-on activities within exhibits, different locations for different experiences so walking between locations is necessary, variety of experiences, including an IMAX Theatre, an assembly-line, and an indoor museum.”
“The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is the largest children’s museum in the world and I can see why it was my favorite place growing up. There are so many fun and interactive exhibits that pop up there from Barbie to LEGOs and Jurassic Park. It’s always been a wonderland of cultural, historical, and childhood memories and I remember a lot of the things I learned from those exhibits growing up still today.”
“Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas, was always one of my favorite places to go because they have hands-on exhibits and the displays always have some sort of tie-in that helps visitors figure out how to apply the concepts introduced in the exhibits to things in real life.”
“This museum in Muncie, Indiana, includes lots of hands-on exhibits and experiences, both indoor and outdoor activities, both docent-led and self-directed tours, something appealing for all ages, sensory-friendly gardens, etc.!”
The Museum of Space History in New Mexico has displays outside as you walk into the building. Once inside, you go to the top and there’s a natural flow downward, ensuring nothing is missed. On each level, there’s a variety of exhibits, from wall diagrams to displays, and movies to interactive sets. Most of the reading is also short and succinct. The same reasons that make this good for me, also make it good for the kids.”
West Coast Museums
“The OMSI in Portland, Oregon, has lots of wonderful hands-on exhibits! They also have a wonderful security system in place. I had do call a code blue on a missing student, but we found him!”
“Monterey Bay Aquarium for exhibits specifically because it’s just so beautiful and there is lots to look at and experience. Lots of low ambiance sounds that are calming. Also many areas have low lighting and that seems to help reduce overstimulation.”
“The Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of the original hands-on learning spaces and it remains a marvel of experiential learning with indoor and outdoor exhibits, almost all of which encourage kids to touch, stomp, and explore. It seems it was built for inquisitive, active ADHD minds.”
“The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium in Portland, Oregon, is an interactive space that allows for loud noises and tactile experimentation. There is humor at several levels of engagement, for instance, for a reading-averse person, one can find funny buttons to push or instruments to play, and for the hyperfocused, one can take a deep dive into an art peice with lots of humorous and informative written plaques and signs. The staff, who are not coincidentally nearly all neurodiverse, are happy to talk about their love of a certain exhibit, funny interactions, historical oddities in the city or region, and can recommend other places and experienced nearby that appeal to the ‘neurospicy.’ The museum has been enjoyed by children, teens, young adults, and older adults in a variety of ways. The tickets are good all day, so if a member of the family needs time to process something, there isn’t any pressure to go. It can be described as loosely controlled chaos, or a carnival for the senses, depending on your sensory style.”
“There are live exhibits that include falconry, and the botanical gardens helps break up the monotony of a hike from one animal exhibit to another.”
“The Discovery Park of America offers so many different things to take in and learn about and you can bounce around as you please. It speaks to my learning style. It is every learning style imaginable and has huge things to offer everyone in my family of broad interests.”
“The Orlando Science Center is amazing. There are three stories of interactive and hands-on activities that allow kids to freely explore the exhibits. It’s fun as an adult too.”
“The DoSeum in San Antonio, Texas, is a children’s museum built around the power of play!”
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