ADHD Goes to the Museum
Loud crowds, long waits, and strict rules make museums daunting for some neurodivergent visitors. Here, ADDitude readers share their experiences and offer ideas for museum accessibility.
Spaceships and war planes. Artifacts from the segregated South. Prince’s yellow cloud guitar.
Informative and interactive cultural exhibits like these inspire neurodivergent individuals to visit museums, galleries, and other attractions, according to a recent ADDitude survey. But for many, the noise, crowds and overstimulation can turn a day of exploration into a slog.
A majority of survey respondents, 54 percent, said they did not believe museums, exhibits, and other cultural attractions were well-equipped for neurodivergent visitors. More than half (53%) said their kids get overstimulated at museums, while 47 percent said exhibits left their kids understimulated (i.e., bored).
When asked about the biggest barriers to enjoying exhibits, respondents cited lighting, crowds, sounds, and overwhelm.
“Wanting to see everything in a museum can be overwhelming, and following maps can be difficult.”
“I don’t like when you have to walk through one exhibit in order to get to another. What if the first one doesn’t interest me?”
“We had to leave Vatican City. It was too crowded, and my kids were having more fun sitting on the floor playing a game they made up than seeing amazing works of art.”
Despite these barriers, the museum can offer benefits for neurodivergent learners, as these readers described:
“We usually visit for school projects, and it’s a really fun way to get out of a conventional classroom environment while still learning.”
“It’s the freedom of intensity, pleasure, and excitement of immersion into objects that pull me in.”
Overstimulated or Understimulated at the Museum? Try these Tips!
“Let your child wear headphones to listen to something they find soothing. Don’t pull their headphones off and say, ‘Hey, are you paying attention?’ They will pay attention to what interests them. It’s a family trip, not a boot camp.”
“Keep the visit to their attention span.”
“Make sure to pack food.”
“Download a map and organize anything you need to bring before you go. Start talking about the outing with your kids a week before the big day, so that the excitement is not discharged all at once! Get them to practice waiting and not just expect instant gratification.”
Accommodations to Improve Museum Accessibility:
ADDitude readers suggested the following accommodations to improve the museum-going experience of visitors with ADHD and other neurodivergent guests:
- Provide quiet rooms close to big exhibitions to reduce overwhelm.
- Allow people to bring fidget toys
- Set aside time slots for people and groups in need of a quieter and less crowded environment.
- Consider outdoor presentations.
- Provide clear signage and maps.
Overstimulated and Understimulated: Next Steps
- Read: What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
- Self-Test: Sensory Processing Disorder in Children
- Free Resource: Unraveling the Mysteries of Your ADHD Brain
- Read: How to Treat Sensory Processing Disorder
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