How to Museum with ADHD

Apr. 3rd, 2018

There are some things in life that we remember as being fun, think are fun, are told are fun, but... Just are not. In recent years I began to feel as though museums fell into this category. I started to notice how soporific they were. My mother always invited me to fascinating exhibits that in documentary form would have had me riveted. Something about shuffling from glass case to glass case in a dimly lit room has me nodding off within 10 minutes, however.

It didn’t help that I kept “shoulding” myself. “This should be fun! I should be enjoying myself! Pay attention!” The weight of all the things I expected of myself pressed me even further into snoozeville.

After I realized I really wasn’t happy or enjoying myself as much as I expected, I began changing my approach. My first step was to reduce the weight I physically carried around. As a child I used to shock the grownups with how heavy my backpack was. Then I started bringing knitting or crochet with me whenever I took a trip. I can knit without looking at my hands so this is ideal for looking at artifacts and reading informational plaques.

These things helped, but just not enough. So before my most recent museum trip, I sat down and thought seriously about all the things I could do to make the time more enjoyable. These points could also easily apply to a convention, lecture series, or any other event of this type. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Interest

I made sure that the exhibit I was invited to was really of interest to me. Not just “Yeah, that might be neat.” or “Sure, I’ll go.” but “Wow! Count me in!” Vikings interest me on multiple levels.

2. Comfort

I spent a good chunk of time considering my clothing and footwear carefully. The temperature in the cavernous rooms of the Royal Ontario Museum can vary wildly, but it is also March in southern Ontario, so I dressed in light layers, and took advantage of the coat check. And I chose boots that had proven themselves as warm and not prone to blistering.

3. Hydration

I drank a bunch of water before leaving the house, carried a small water bottle with me, and stopped at fountains as they presented themselves. The dry air of museums can leave me parched in minutes, but there are always large, well maintained, and plentiful bathrooms available for when that extra hydration backfires somewhat.

4. Pacing

I’d always assumed the benches in museum exhibits were provided for the elderly or unwell. I being young and strong didn’t deserve such consideration as being able to sit down for a few minutes. I noticed this trip that hardly anyone sits on the benches, however. So, provided I wasn’t taking up space someone else needed, I gave myself permission to take a load off. These breaks increased my stamina and I didn’t feel the need to wait for my family at the exit like I had during my museum trip back in November.

5. Audio

At the beginning of the exhibit, there was information on how to access the online audio tour recordings, courtesy of the free WiFi provided by the museum. I will always opt for the audio version of a book and this was no different. The voice was pleasant and gave me the passive engagement that documentaries provide. It also gave me a path to follow, as each segment of audio progressed further through the exhibit.

6. Games

Part of the fascination of Vikings for me and my family relates to our Scandinavian ancestors. For my sister and I, it’s also linked to the Marvel comics and cinematic universe. At the conclusion of our visit, I was informed that my sister only found two mentions of Loki, the trickster god. Thor, of course, had been talked about non-stop. Two of the Norse myths included with the audio tour had featured Thor specifically. Looking for mentions of Loki made the trip more fun for my sister. I also love looking for any mentions that specifically disprove “common knowledge”, such as the fact that no archaeological find has ever included a Viking helmet with horns attached.

7. Fidget

While I was sitting on a bench, listening to the audio tour, a man passing by asked what I was knitting. I explained it was a baby blanket. He nodded approvingly and moved on. Keeping my hands busy, with the circular needles that could compress into my small, light purse, meant I didn’t have to fight to keep my attention on the exhibit. And I always feel a touch of pride that in this digital age, I knit.

What would make museums more fun for you?