Ask the Experts

Q: How Can She Focus with Distracting Roommates Around All the Time?

Many college students taking remote classes are living on campus with roommates who are also always around. How can a young adult with ADHD learn to fight off these distractions to get things done?

Three young women studying in student dormitory, one at desk

Q: “My daughter’s first semester at college was a challenging one as all her classes were virtual, but she was allowed to live in the dorms. My daughter really liked working in her room, but her suite mates were around all the time too. My daughter complained that they are super noisy and chatty, and it was really distracting. She ended up putting off studying or losing hours of time and getting nothing done. I want to help her when she goes back to handle this since nothing is going to change. She has ADHD and focusing is hard for her.” – CollegeMom


Hi CollegeMom:

Living with roommates is tough – especially for college students with ADHD. Getting used to living in a small, shared space definitely takes compromise, trial and error, and lots of planning. Here are my tried-and-true tips for cohabitation collaboration on campus:

1. Set up rules for the room. With many sharing a small space, you need to lay down some serious laws! The dorm has them. Your daughter’s floor has them. She needs them. Have her sit down with her roommates (before going back for second semester) to discuss everything from who’s taking out the garbage to the frequency of guests. Have her suggest establishing quiet hours – a set block of time every day when the suite is a peaceful oasis that promotes deep work. Establishing some guidelines when they’re not in the heat of the moment is essential to a calm coexistence.

[Click to Read: 5 Factors That Influence Success in College]

2. Desk placement is key. I ask my students to think about where they place their desk. Does it face the door? The window? What do they see when they look up? I know this may sound obvious, but physically turning your back to distractions can help keep you focused. Have your daughter place her desk against a blank wall or in the back of her room facing the window. This way, she is less likely to be tempted by the noise outside in the hallway or what her suite mates are doing. It will also send a subtle signal that she is not to be disturbed.

3. Headphones and a white noise app should be her best friends. They are a must-have on EVERY college student’s list. These tools are perfect for when she needs to drown out noises while working anywhere, but especially in a dorm room. Plenty of white noise apps can keep her focused while also toning down the sounds of her roommates.

4. Create “Do Not Disturb” signals. If the college allows, have your daughter hang a whiteboard on the outside of the door to her room. This is a great method to politely remind her roommates that she’s home and studying. A quick “Hi! I’m in here working!” on the board signals that she’d appreciate some quiet when someone opens the door. In the same vein, a three-sided tabletop presentation board propped on top of her desk will shield her from anyone entering the room; sending a signal that she is engaging in deep focus work and is not to be disturbed.

Good luck to your daughter next semester!

How to Focus in College with ADHD: Next Steps


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