The Mighty Logo

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Living With a Neurotypical Roommate

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Having roommates can be hard for a number of reasons. Different personality types, timetables, interests, etc., can all lead to either a harmonious or horrible relationship. It can get even more tricky when we throw brain chemistry and neurodivergence into the mix.

Neurodivergents have a different way of operating the world compared to neurotypicals. Depending on the neurodivergent condition, we may need way more structure, less structure, more stimulation, less stimulation, or just very specific conditions in order to thrive that differ from that of a neurotypical.

Other relevant stories:
How to Be Productive With ADHD
Is ADHD Overdiagnosed?
How to Study With ADHD
What is ADHD?

I never realized just how different living with a neurotypical was until I knew I had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was put into a living situation with someone who operated very differently than I did. While I’ve lived with other neurotypicals with little to no issue, there are some experiences that I’ve noticed are universal (for me), and I wish I knew to expect them.

1. Agreeing on an organizational structure may be tough.

Maybe it’s because I’m more Type A than I realized, but I never realized how nitpicky I am about pantry and fridge organization. Yes, I may forget the food exists half the time, but it doesn’t change that there’s a very specific structure. For some reason, I’m not bothered (as much) if I mess it up, but I am when the other roommate does. That, or it’s the complete opposite where they have a different organization system and I can’t adjust to it for the life of me.

2. Sometimes you may be perceived as annoying or weird.

Given that I have ADHD, I can have chatty bouts where I talk a lot and don’t stop for a while. That, or I sometimes cut people off and I’ve had to really be mindful of that. While some people are understanding of this, others are not, and those are the same people who have called me annoying to be around. Sometimes to keep the peace masking helps, but it’s also never a good feeling to have to mask in your own home.

3. Boundaries are more important than you realize.

Setting boundaries with your neurodivergence isn’t something I personally see talked about, but it’s so important. For me, that looks like telling my roommate not to throw out any water bottles that they think I’m done with. Sometimes I’m not done with them, and as silly as it is it really bothers me when they’re gone. That, or simply just to ask me before they toss something or move something of mine. If I’m asked I’m usually fine, but if I’m not asked it can bother me a lot more than it should. 

4. Making your bedroom or space your sanctuary is crucial.

Making your bedroom your sanctuary is important for anyone, but when you’re neurodivergent, it’s even more important. Because you do have to compromise in the shared living spaces, you may at times have to deal with sensory icks, sensory overload, or overstimulation amongst other things. You have control over your bedroom. Making sure the scents, textures, lights, and more all are suited to your brain will help when you need to regulate yourself or if you need time away. Having your own space is so important for that reason.

5. Honesty matters.

We should never feel as if we have to disclose our disabilities to anyone. If you do trust your roommate though, it may help if you’re honest with them about your brain and how you best function. It may be easier to work with them if you do — and you do want to work with your roommate, not against them. Be honest about your strengths, areas of opportunity, or weaknesses, and how you can really step into it.

Had I known these things, my roommate relationship may have been stronger. Either way, you live, you learn, and when you’re in the middle of an unaffordable housing crisis, you find new roommates with whom you can start all over.

Getty image by Klaus Vedfelt

Originally published: September 21, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home