Living with Autism as a Teen and Young Adult

In the words of Connor Jacob Archer

Young adult with parents at track meetLiving with the challenges of autism as a teenager, and into the early years of adulthood, can be daunting. So many changes already come during your teenage years. Adding the challenges of autism can complicate your daily routine, and lead to stress that you already have just by growing up as a teenager and young adult.

Throughout my teenage years, I needed to gain self-confidence that would help me grow as an individual. I needed to try to do activities that would bring me out of my comfort zone. Fortunately, I had some amazing friends that encouraged me to try new things, even when I was not a big fan of doing so.

Discovering my potential

8th Grade was an eye-opening year for me, as it taught me many valuable lessons and gave me great opportunities such as becoming president of the middle school student council, the opportunity to debate, realizing my potential in public speaking, and much more. These opportunities and lessons led to a successful high school career.

High School transition

Transitioning into high school was challenging, even though my older brother was a senior in the school at that time. It did get easier overtime as I continued to establish myself at Old Town High School. High School was also when I shared that I live with autism. Not a lot of people knew about my challenges before I shared the story. This led to founding the Courageous Steps Project, now a non-profit organization that helps children and young adults with autism and other developmental challenges. Though this gave me confidence, it was a sport that really helped me grow.

Training for a goal

I spent the summer of 2014 running 5-10 miles a day, some days including intense speed workouts. I did it to prove a point that I could be a number one option on our high school Cross Country team as a junior with lots of senior leadership. It worked out nicely for the first part of the season with personal records (PR’s) at the opening meet and a team course record at our home meet that year. However, injuries and tiredness dampened the rest of the season. I did still set PRs, but the PR’s were not as dramatic.

Redeeming myself

As my junior year of outdoor track approached, I wanted to redeem myself from a hard Cross Country and Indoor Track season. So, I took a little time off in between seasons to rest my legs, and to just relax with close friends. I came into that season with a mindset of being an effective performer on the team. I ended up finishing as one of the top distance runners on the team, and contributed to our teams’ success.

Stepping up

During my senior year, I had to become the number one option on my team. As the team captain and top runner on the Cross Country team, Indoor Track distance team, and Outdoor Track distance team, I had to demonstrate that I could run fast times constantly, even if I faced nagging injuries. If I had to take a day off, I would do that. If I had to do a longer run to strengthen my endurance, I would do that as well. The big part of my senior year, throughout all three seasons, was developing a sense of mental toughness, while also finding ways to relax and not overthink a race. It all showed during my final season of Outdoor Track where I broke 5 minutes in the mile, running at 4:52. When I started running, I did not expect to run that time, so looking at the clock that day, and seeing that time, was a pretty special moment.

A Once in a lifetime experience

During that same time, I also got the experience of a lifetime. In February of 2016, I was honored as a Prudential Spirit of Community High School State Honoree. I had the privilege of representing Maine by traveling down to Washington D.C. for a four-day conference that would result in many new friends, and a lifetime full of experiences. I came back as one of ten Prudential Spirit of Community National Honorees. I remember saying to my mom, who was in attendance, that “It was a fun trip, and it was a great learning experience.” But once they announced the ten Honorees, including one “From Old Town High School, in Old Town, Maine,” I was speechless. It just is not something that you expect, especially out of 101 other honorees that have incredible projects themselves. I just embraced the experience and used it to help me grow personally and to grow my Courageous Steps Project.

Embarking on a new journey

After graduating from Old Town High School with an honors’ diploma, I embarked on my college career at Husson University. However, I also was in the process of creating the non-profit umbrella for the Courageous Steps Project and starting my first job at the Old Town Recreation Center. The first semester of college was challenging, especially as I had to meet new friends and balance a new job that took time to navigate. However, with time, I was able to adjust and challenge myself in new and exciting ways.

What am I up to now?

I am currently in my junior year at Husson University, while also running Courageous Steps. I continue to work at the Old Town Recreation Center, as well as timing high school cross-country and track meets through Brewer Timing Services. In the summer, I volunteer coach for the Old Town Summer Track Club. I also try to find time to relax with family and friends. While it is hard for me to relax, I feel that it is important to find time for laughter and happiness, even if you are as passionate or driven about things as I am.

We would like to thank Connor for sharing his story and his thoughts in this issue of Pathways. If you are interested in learning more about the Courageous Steps Project, check out their website.