12 tips for preparing kids with ADHD for life with college roommates

By Amanda Morin

Is your child with ADHD going off to college? Adjusting to life with roommates can be tricky for kids with ADHD, who can have trouble with focus, self-control, organization, and social skills. These tips can help make the transition smoother.

1. Create a housekeeping schedule.

Staying on top of chores can be tough for kids with ADHD. But roommates may not appreciate living with a mess they didn’t create.

Having a schedule to do laundry, clean and shop can help avoid roommate conflicts. Kids who have routines and skills (housekeeping and money management) in place before leaving home less likely to have giant laundry piles and overflowing trash cans.

2. Consider a summer bridge program.

Kids who haven’t shared a room before may have no idea how to plan for — and manage — having limited space. Some colleges have transition or summer bridge programs. That includes schools with programs for kids with learning and thinking differences.

Participating in a summer program gives kids a chance to experience living in a dorm room. If they have trouble with organization and planning, it can help them see how they might organize their things when they move in and have to share tight living quarters with a roommate.

3. Work with your child to fill out housing forms.

It’s important to provide accurate information to the school — and on time — in order to be matched with a compatible roommate. (No guarantees, however!) Kids with ADHD may put off filling out housing forms and have trouble knowing what’s important to share.

Help your child get the form filled out and back to the school. Make sure your child knows that information about things like sleep and study habits is important. If your child is a night owl, that should be included. Kids with specific study habit needs should note those, too.

4. Help your child compose an initial email.

Encourage your child to contact the new roommate via email. This gives kids a chance to organize their thoughts ahead of time, which can be tough for kids with ADHD. The email should provide basic information: hometown, family members, and interests. Kids may also want to share activities they’d like to participate in at college.

This first email is a good time to ask about dividing up responsibilities for room décor and appliances. Will they need two TVs? How about a microwave or small refrigerator?

5. Teach your child not to overshare personal information.

It can be tempting to get very personal very quickly. This is especially true if your child doesn’t read social cues well. But remind your child to avoid sharing too much information before really knowing the roommate.

There are a few topics that are important to not talk about in the beginning. For example, it’s not a good idea for kids to share that they go to therapy or take medication. They also shouldn’t rush to talk about negative experiences they’ve had either in or outside of school.

6. Teach kids not to overshare information about a roommate.

Kids who struggle with impulsivity may sometimes blurt out information that other people didn’t want shared with anyone else. Remind kids to respect what roommates share. Teach kids that asking the question “Is this something you don’t want other people to know?” can help them understand what they need to keep to themselves.

7. Stress that roommates don’t have to be BFFs.

A new roommate doesn’t have to be your child’s new best friend. Kids who have a hard time making friends may feel — or hope — that having a roommate can take the place of meeting new people.

Young adults with ADHD may also have trouble controlling emotions. They may need to practice ways to express themselves if they’re feeling left out or jealous. But remind kids that it’s important for each of them to get to know other people and make other friends, too. And if they end up being close friends, that’s a bonus!

8. Talk about boundaries.

Help your child think about social boundaries. Is your child OK with the roommate having overnight guests? What about borrowing things from one another? It’s important for kids to know their own boundaries and what makes them uncomfortable. Teach your child appropriate ways to express boundaries.

9. Talk about respecting other people’s views.

Young adults with ADHD can have trouble seeing and respecting other people’s viewpoints. But they need to respect the roommate’s boundaries, too. Remind your child to respect the roommate’s privacy when the roomie is sleeping, studying, and talking to other friends. For example, it’s thoughtful to use earphones while listening to music.

10. Practice conflict resolution skills.

Living with someone new can take getting used to. If your child has trouble with flexible thinking, you may want to practice making adjustments and working through potential conflicts.

Remind your child to talk about problems using “I” statements. Here’s an example. “Your friends are really great, and most of the time I don’t mind when they come hang out here.  But I’m uncomfortable when so many are in our room after quiet hours. It’s hard to sleep. I’d really appreciate it if you all could move to another room to hang out.”

11. Review safety and medication issues.

Explain the importance of always locking the door. And talk about how to carry the key or key card to keep track of it. Remind kids not to keep anything valuable in plain sight and that medications need to be stored securely, too.

It’s not that kids shouldn’t trust their roommate. But it takes a while to really know someone — plus other people may come in the room. Discuss about to handle it if someone, including the roommate, pressures your child to share medication.

12. Prepare a contact list.

Kids may not know who to reach out to when there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, including a problem with a roommate. Work with your child to fill in a contact list of campus staff who can help.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.