Simple Strategies for house-sharing in a Neurodiverse Household

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  • Living in a neurodiverse (ND) household offers a unique opportunity to embrace the richness of human diversity. Neurodiversity encompasses a range of neurological variations, including Autism (aka ASD or Aspergers), ADHD, Dyslexia and more, each presenting its own set of strengths and challenges. Over the last nine years of house-sharing, I've lived with a few housemates who were neurodiverse. At first, I was unaware of the unique challenges it might bring but once I gained some insight, I simply made a few adjustments and I asked my housemates to do the same. It helped us to support each other, creating a happy home life. This article aims to shed light on some of those challenges by offering practical insights for creating a supportive and harmonious living environment. By catering to each other's needs and fostering understanding and empathy, neurodiverse and neurotypical housemates can live together harmoniously.

    ***BTW, I'm writing from my personal experience. Please provide any further insights via the social media posts where this article will be shared.

    Understanding Neurodiversity

    It's important to first understand what neurodiversity means. ND people may experience the world differently, with variations in how they communicate, how they process information and how they interact with their environment. Acknowledging and valuing these differences is the first step towards building a supportive and happy home.

    The Unique Challenges of Neurodiversity

    ND people may face distinct challenges in a house-share environment. These can include heightened sensitivities to sensory stimuli, difficulties with social communication and the need for routine and predictability. Recognising these challenges is essential for creating a living space that feels safe and comfortable for everyone.

    Effective Communication Strategies between ND and NT people

    Clear and compassionate communication is key to any happy home life. For ND housemates, this might be a preference for written communication over verbal, requiring specific instructions, or needing time to process information. Establishing a preferred communication style and being patient can significantly enhance mutual understanding and respect.

    Here are some helpful tips on effectively communicating with ND people

    1. Use a shared note on your phone for shopping lists, household chores and any tasks they're expected to do. 
    2. Communicate via a chat messaging system or email as it gives them time to process the information.
    3. Be mindful to communicate with facts not feelings. 
    4. No ambiguity. Be as precise as you can and ensure that everyone is clearly understood.
    5. Let them know if you have guests coming over. They may or may not like to join in but it's helpful if they know you're having visitors.

      If you have a spare bedroom and don't know where to start, grab a copy of the guide. It has all the information and resources you need to get started.

    Creating a Sensory-Sensitive Home

    Sensory sensitivities are common among neurodiverse people, making it important to create a sensory-friendly living environment. This can involve minimising noise, adjusting lighting or creating specific areas designed to meet different sensory needs. Small adjustments can make a big difference in the comfort of ND housemates.

    Supporting Independence and Routine

    Many ND individuals thrive on routine and predictability. Together, housemates can work to establish routines that support everyone's needs, such as consistent meal times or quiet hours. Additionally, fostering an environment where ND housemates can exercise independence in their daily activities encourages a sense of autonomy and confidence. Be clear about household chores and when you expect them to be done. You can create a roster that is placed on the fridge or have a household meeting where you make it clear what is required.

    Navigating Social Interactions and Shared Spaces

    Understanding and accommodating the social preferences of ND housemates is crucial. Some may need more alone time, while others might find certain social situations challenging. We once shared our home with someone who felt uncomfortable sitting around a dinner table and having a conversation while we ate. They preferred to eat on their own and have a conversation at another time. You might also find that when they come to the kitchen to get food, they may not be coming to socialise. Respecting these preferences and creating a balance between social interaction and personal space can help immensely. One more thing, don't take it personally if they want time on their own. It's not about you.

    Leveraging Strengths and Interests

    Every person, neurodiverse or neurotypical, brings unique strengths and interests to the home. I once shared our home with a guy who was very task-orientated. He lived with us on a rent offset arrangement and as a result, every corner of my house was organised and kept tidy all the time. Being aware of their strengths can not only improve the atmosphere at home but also provide opportunities and benefits for all. Find out what you both have in common in terms of interests and hobbies. Finding a common interest can help with building a cohesive household.

    Embracing Challenges with Patience and Understanding

    Living together, especially in a neurodiverse household, can present some challenges. Sometimes ND's may require time to themselves as a result of sensory overload. Approaching these moments with empathy, open-mindedness and a commitment to finding solutions can often strengthen relationships and foster a supportive home life. It's about creating a space where everyone, regardless of their neurological makeup feels valued and understood.

    In closing...

    Society as a whole is still learning about neurodiversity. It's starting to become mainstream as it's more openly discussed. However, I still find that people who are neurodiverse can sometimes feel stigmatised or judged. I look at it this way. We all have our strengths and weaknesses whether we're neurodivergent or neurotypical. If we can be open about what they are and clear about what our needs are, we'll create a more harmonious home life for all.

    I'm 57 and have only recently come to understand neurodiversity. As it becomes more known, you will find that more and more people in your life are neurodiverse. Having a better understanding of their unique qualities, will not only support them but you as well. Creating a happy home life is a rewarding journey that enriches everyone involved. By embracing neurodiversity, communicating effectively and adapting your home life to meet everyone's needs, you can build a household that is not only accommodating but truly inclusive. Remember, the key to harmony is understanding, respect and a willingness to learn from each other's unique perspectives.

    Footnote: If you are a housemate moving into a household with neurodivergent children, the above insights may not apply. We advise that you take the lead from the parents and learn as much about their children as possible. If you are a household with neurodivergent children and are looking for a housemate, please be open about the household makeup and the adjustments that will be required before the housemate moves in. That way, they are fully aware and can make a decision based on the right information.

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