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Ten Tips for Dealing with a Roommate for Students with Autism or Learning Differences


Dealing with Roommates - CIP Blog

Having a roommate can be one of the best experiences for every young adult as they transition towards independence. With all of the fun and excitement that comes with living with someone else, there are always some additional challenges when two people live together, especially for those on the autism spectrum or with a learning difference.

Here at College Internship Program (CIP), we work closely with young adults to navigate the ins and outs of having a roommate. We offer roommate meetings to help create solutions within the apartment, we teach coping strategies through our social skills sessions for when things get difficult, and we work with our advisors to develop strategies to ensure that expectations are being set and followed.

Here are some tips that we use with our young adults when dealing with a roommate when they are feeling a little stressed:

1. Set clear boundaries and act respectful 

One of the biggest issues among any roommates are people feeling disrespected or that they are being taken advantage of. To avoid this, it is important to set clear boundaries -- from whether it is okay to share food, to a protocol on sharing the bathroom, or appropriate times to have guests over. Identifying how items and times in the apartment are shared on day one can avoid many future arguments and hurt feelings. 

2. Set communication expectations

Living with anyone, we have to learn to communicate as well as learn how other individuals share feedback. It is safe to assume both roommates will come with assumptions about how to live their daily lives -- from how to wash a dish, to the appropriate time to get ready for bed. Setting expectations on how to communicate with each other can avoid future issues. Some great tips are as follows: 

  • Use a small white board to put short messages like “going to a movie, be back late” or to list out chores that need to be done, and who is responsible for the chore
  • Sharing each other's phone numbers so you can text any issues that may arise 
  • Share with each other your preferred way of communicating when not in the apartment 

3. Set apartment rules and routines 

Setting routines with your roommate can avoid frustrations and a dirty apartment. It is good to discuss how you will manage chores, grocery shopping, and maintenance issues. Writing out the routines can be very helpful to remember each roommate's role in keeping a shared space clean and healthy 

4. When in doubt, talk it out

Challenges will happen and you will get overwhelmed when someone else is not doing things the way you want them to happen.  We tend to want to bottle this up, when in reality the best thing you can do is talk about. Set time aside weekly to talk about challenges or just to make sure everyone is on the same page.

5. Do your part

It is easy to point out when your roommate is not doing what they should be doing, but before sharing your input, make sure you are doing your part to keep the living situation clean, healthy, and productive. 

6. Learn to compromise

We all have to change our way of living when sharing a space with someone. Learning to be flexible and open to the schedule, routines, and expectations that change with time and new seasons is crucial to keeping a positive roommate relationship. If you can learn to work together and come up with a solution you both can manage, it will help your connection stay positive. 

7. Approach issues with an open mind

It can be very difficult to stay open minded when we are upset or feel like someone has intentionally done something to upset you. Remember, this is usually not the case and was not done intentionally. Your roommate just probably forgot about expectations or was maybe having a bad day. It is important to try and have an open mind, and to approach issues with the intention to fix it to avoid further fighting or negative interactions. 

8. Create a safety plan 

It is always good to be prepared for the unexpected.  Work with your roommate to develop strategies in case of an emergency or a disaster such as a fire, a tornado, a hurricane or any other potential issues. Also, be sure to exchange emergency contact information with your roommate, so they can help reach out to loved ones in case something were to happen. 

9. Ask for support

One of the most important things that any roommate can do when they come to an issue they cannot solve is to ask for help. We coach students to try to solve issues themselves first and then seek assistance if the issue isn’t resolved. Sometimes, we just need someone neutral to help us look at things in a different perspective. 

10. THINK POSITIVE!

Keeping a positive attitude always helps when dealing with any stressful situation. Be sure to encourage each other and treat each other as you want to be treated.    

Once a student gains some independence and begins living with a roommate, the stresses of everyday life creep into our homes. Preparing for those stressors and working together with your roommate will help those moments be much easier to handle. At CIP, these tips are the foundation of creating a great living arrangement for all of our young adults.



About the Authors: Jacob Steinmetz and Sara Jamieson

CIP Bloomington’s Program Director, Jake Steinmetz, has worked in the field of special education for over fifteen years as a teacher and a school administrator. As the Program Director at CIP Bloomington, Jake helps lead students and staff members through the implementation of individualized comprehensive programming with the goal of becoming independent members of the community. Sara Jamieson has worked in the field of learning differences for over a decade in many settings, including one-on-one tutoring, preschool teacher, paraeducator, and CIP Bloomington's Head Student Advisor, before becoming the Assistant Program Director.  Throughout her career, she continues to seek opportunities to enrich the lives of individuals with learning differences by creating practical daily tools to support long term independence in both direct care and administrative settings.




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CIP's full-year postsecondary programs offer individualized college academic, social, career and life skills support for young adults with Autism, ADHD and other Learning Differences. Learn more...

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