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At the University of Florida (UF), we are already halfway through the semester. I promised I’d share tips and stories and things I’ve been learning in college, and this month, I want to talk about roommates (or if you are friends, I guess you can call yourselves “roomies”). Before you ask, I did share with my roommate, Lena, that I would be writing this column!

Your Roommate May or May Not Be Randomly Selected
All campus are different, but in general, you can either be randomly assigned a roommate or be given the option to select one. Last March, I made the decision that I was definitely going to UF. I then contacted the Disability Resource Center and the Housing Department on campus. I eventually chose Lena as my roommate.

  • Each campus has residence halls that are probably exclusively for freshmen, and each hall has a different reputation. Talk to upperclassmen about these reputations or even someone from Housing could give you the inside scoop.
  • As someone with autism or any sort of special need, a roommate could simply make or break your college experience. I was introduced to several girls who lived in my current hall (which is where all the honors students live so I am surrounded by very smart people all the time, ha!) and got to interview each of them to find out who would make the best fit.

If you are going random, your university will probably give you information on your roommate. You’ll get her phone number and email address. Try to contact her over the summer to establish a relationship. Find out about her living habits to avoid any surprises on move-in day. Most likely, you can stalk find out about your future space sharing friend on Facebook.

Set Some Ground Rules (and Enforce Them)
As much as I love Lena, having a routine was very hard for us to establish. As someone with autism, having a routine is kind of a necessity. It’s hard to explain these things when you live with someone new, but you must advocate for yourself.

  • At the beginning of the semester, our RA (resident assistant) made us draw up contracts detailing our living habits to be referenced in the event of a conflict. We had to put what times we prefer to/agree to go to bed during the week and on weekends, if we can have guests, cleanliness habits, etc.
  • We have our schedules on our side of the room for reference. If one of us is about to oversleep and miss class, we will wake the other and motivate her to actually go to class (as tempting as skipping that giant lecture class with 300+ people is).

Initially, Lena and I would go to bed much later than we stated on our contract. It took me weeks to realize how sleep deprived I was. We had to talk it out and now every night we have a quick chat about when each of us plans to go to bed based on our schedule.  If your living habits become problematic for you, try to talk them out.

Help Each Other Out
My roommate and I have a good relationship, we’re very good friends, we love each other, and when we’re not stressed out and studying, it’s like having a sleepover every night.

  • But if Lena is going out with a friend and says she’ll get back late, I tell her to please text me when she’s on her way back. I just want to know she’s alright. We look out for each other.

It’s easy to get caught up in other things on a college campus and having someone you live with who helps look out for you and vice versa is awesome. 🙂

Hope They are Understanding
As you can tell, Lena is definitely an understanding person. I got lucky. If your roommate is cool, don’t be afraid to be yourself and explain things if needed. I know in certain situations I got overwhelmed and I had to explain after the fact. Understand that for your roommate, living with someone different is also a new experience.

  • If you need “quiet time”, try to make an arrangement. If that’s not possible, find somewhere quiet on campus like designated study rooms or reserve quiet rooms in the libraries (most universities have a system where the rooms on higher library floors are higher quiet levels, like on the top floors hearing a pin drop disturbs the silence kind of quiet). I’m used to having lots of quiet time at home. We don’t have arranged quiet time, but if we’re both studying, it’s obviously a lot quieter than when we have louder music and are talking.

I hope this helps you with roommates, and gives you some ideas of what to look for and how to work together.