How to Prepare Your ADHD Child for Having a College Roommate


When your child has ADHD, sharing a college dorm with a roommate can be especially challenging. Careful planning will help your child ease more confidently into a positive relationship with their new roommate.

Sharing a Room with a Stranger

Often, going off to college means sharing a room with someone new. While it will take time for your child to develop a relationship with their new roommate, certain issues should be tackled before they move in together.

Set Boundaries

From the very beginning, your ADHD child will need to set boundaries with their new roommate. Not everyone can be trusted to understand or respect what it means to live with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It may take months for your child to determine if their new roommate is trustworthy. Revealing their ADHD diagnosis to a new roommate may not be the best course of action.

ADHD is certainly not a shameful condition. Yet divulging it to immature or ill-informed people could potentially expose your child to hurtful ridicule. Adjusting to college life can be formidable enough without the added burden of an unwarranted stigma.

In a social environment where rumors can spread like wildfire, urge your child to keep their personal business private.

Manage Medications

Drugs prescribed for ADHD are often stolen and abused on college campuses. Remind your child not to tell their peers if they are taking any such medications. Your child should keep any ADHD medications well-hidden and take them discreetly.

Building the Foundation for a Positive Roommate Relationship

Help your child get off to a good start with their new roommate. Before they leave for their college adventure, sit down with them and discuss these pieces of advice.

Emphasize Patience

If your child struggles with impulsivity, remind them to stay calm and be especially patient in stressful situations. Blurting out a tactless comment or unexpectedly exploding at their new roommate could quickly damage their relationship.

Make Friendly Overtures

If your child has inattentive ADHD, they may appear aloof to others. Ask your child to make a special effort to be responsive to their roommate. Even if they don't become close friends, having a cordial relationship will make the experience of rooming together much more pleasant.

Suggest an Intermediary for Conflicts

People with ADHD tend to have difficulty navigating complex social situations. When conflicts arise between your child and their roommate, a neutral third party can objectively help them work out their differences. Advise your child to seek out an intermediary like a Resident Assistant to help diffuse tense situations.

Highlight Different Sensitivities

Roommate misunderstandings and distractions can lead to frustration for your ADHD child.
As a person with ADHD, your child is acutely aware of their own sensitivities. However, they may not realize how their behaviors and actions might affect their new roommate. For example: Just as your child would have a hard time concentrating if their roommate were blasting music or incessantly chatting on the phone, their roommate may be equally driven to distraction by a whirlwind of clutter.

Encourage your child to put themselves in their new roommate's shoes. Emphasize that none of us are perfect. All of us do things to annoy those around us. While it's natural to withdraw and focus on our own problems when we feel slighted or put upon, it's much more constructive to try to see things from the other person's perspective.

Hacking Your Child's Dorm Space for Life with a Roommate

Peaceful coexistence in the close quarters of a dorm room gets a boost from good organization. Before your child leaves for college, work together to figure out how to optimize the space they will share with their new roommate.

Dorm rooms are part bedroom, part kitchenette, part gym, part media room and part study hall. One roommate may be trying to study or sleep while the other is working out or entertaining guests. Conflict often ensues in these situations. Dorm living can be especially difficult if your child has never shared a room before - or if their new roommate has a very different personality than their own. ADHD complicates matters further.

Help your child develop the structure they'll need to thrive in these potentially stressful circumstances. Certain organizational tools and strategies will make it easier for both your ADHD child and their new roommate to get along better in the small space of a dorm room.

Minimize Messes

If your child's new roommate has never lived with someone with ADHD, they may be unprepared for the pervasive disorganization. You're familiar with your child's particular organizational issues. You probably have developed ways to help them minimize clutter. However, some of your tried-and-true solutions may need to be adapted for the peculiarities of a dorm.

Many dorm rooms feature built-in desks, dressers and bookcases. You can't always rearrange the furniture to establish a sense of boundaries or privacy. Not only that, but furniture surfaces - such as the tops of dressers - are often one continuous expanse. This makes it more important than ever to corral your child's possessions and keep them tidy.

An article by Alpha Mom recommends buying see-through drawers and containers for your ADHD child's dorm. This modular storage keeps personal effects together - and off of the countertops or floors. Since your child can quickly scan each unopened container, they can find what they need more easily. Alpha Mom also suggests multi-purpose hooks as an inexpensive and effective way to hang coats, bathrobes or backpacks - practically anything with a loop or handle.

These solutions may not be the most stylish, but they can mean the difference between total disarray and a well-arranged space. They can prevent organizational crises for your child and keep your child's roommate from losing patience.

Create a Study Hall

At the best of times, focusing can be difficult for your ADHD child. If your child's roommate is watching television at full volume while your child is trying to study, the task might become impossible.

Your child and their roommate should try to work out quiet times for their dorm room, since both of them will need a serene atmosphere to study for their courses. Nonetheless, dorm life can be unpredictable, with friends dropping by at odd hours.

Studying in a quiet library can be an alternative to a distracting dorm room for your ADHD child.
Discuss with your child how they might successfully study even if their roommate were distracting them. Is there a safe, quiet space nearby where your child could go to do homework? Is there a study lounge in their dormitory building? If not, a trip to the library might be in order.

If your child can't go elsewhere to study, help them decide what accommodations can be made to block out distractions. It might be as simple as listening to music on headphones while they work. In extreme cases, earplugs may do the trick.

Temper Night-Owl Tendencies

You may have worked very hard to get your child on a reasonable sleep schedule, and you might have taught them good sleep hygiene. While these practices probably helped them get through high school, starting college can change everything.

When nighttime comes, your child can use one of several apps to mute the bright glow of their mobile devices.
Without parental guidance, and in an unstructured atmosphere, your child's night-owl tendencies may be given free reign. Your child might use their electronics late into the night. Their roommate may not appreciate the harsh glare of a smartphone or tablet screen at three in the morning.

Ask your child to install a screen-dimming app. This will mute the bright glow of their mobile device's screen. Try ScreenDim Full, which controls the brightness and contrast. Apps like f.lux are specifically designed to lessen the stimulating blue light that disrupts your child's sleep cycle.

Modify the Wake-Up Call

A loud alarm clock does not foster good roommate relationships.
People with ADHD often have difficulty getting up in the morning, and sometimes turn to obnoxiously loud alarm clocks to help. This could create daily friction - especially if your child needs to get up much earlier than their roommate.

A vibrating alarm clock can be an effective substitute for a blaring buzzer. Most models, such as the Sonic Shaker or the Sonic Bomb, use a bed-shaking attachment to wake your child without disturbing their roommate. A watch with a vibrating alarm clock could work for lighter sleepers.

Your child will learn how to make such accommodations to respect their roommate's needs - while still making sure their own needs are fulfilled.

Learning Lessons for Life

Having a college roommate can teach your ADHD child lessons that they will use throughout their lives. With your input and guidance, your child's experience with their college roommate will be one that helps them grow into a self-assured, well-adjusted adult.

By Michelle Baumgartner
November 2017
k-12 adhd & school

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