Yvonne Whitley, Charles' mom, watches as he gets ready for his community-based skills assessment at the movie theater. The assessments analyze whether Charles can handle working a job for a few hours.
Charles Richardson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with his parents and sister, but he moved to Burlington, North Carolina, in 2012 when he was 15 years old. Throughout his life he was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit disorder and delayed learning disability, but nothing ever felt right with his mom, Yvonne Whitley. It wasn't until he transferred to Southern High School in Graham, North Carolina, she said, that he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
Charles and his mom don't let his diagnosis stop him from doing what he loves.
Each week, Charles attends four practices held by the Special Olympics of Alamance County made for children and adults diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. According to his mom, Charles can always be found dancing to himself bringing light and energy to those around him.
"The goal is just to give him the best life possible," Yvonne said.
Charles attends his Thursday soccer practice. Soccer is one of the many sports that Charles takes part in and one of his favorites. Up until Charles had moved to North Carolina, he was diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and delayed learning disorder. It wasn't until he transferred schools after the move, his mother said, that he was diagnosed with high functioning autism. "It always seemed like something was not right, like something was missing and it just completed the picture for me," said Yvonne, Charles' mom.
Charles and his mom, Yvonne, set up a chore board for tasks he needs to complete each day to help keep structure and responsibility to his day. “It helps him anticipate things and gives him something to look forward to,” Yvonne said. Especially after he graduated from high school, keeping Charles busy is something that is very important for Yvonne.
From right, Tristan Norton, Mackenzie Greenly, Charles Richardson and Michael Jerrell share a laugh after soccer practice. “Charles is always the life of the party, he always cracks people up,” Greenly, Alamance County Special Olympics coordinator said. Yvonne found out about the Special Olympics when they moved in 2012 and it has been a part of their lives ever since.
Yvonne Whitley, Charles’ mom, helps tie his tie before the special needs prom held on May 2, 2023. “He’s my monster and I love him to death. He makes me better,” Yvonne said.
While Charles participates in many sports such as bowling, basketball and soccer, he enjoys swimming the most. “He really shines with that,” Yvonne said.
Along with the struggles of autism, weight gain is something Charles has struggled with and his mom is working to help him with. To help him understand and make it click with him, Yvonne found a School House Rock Episode to help make the conversation entertaining and help him remember.
Charles and Adam Fuqua attend basketball practices on Sunday. Fuqua is one of Charles’ best friends. These practices are a huge part of Charles’ life because that’s where he sees friends, stays active and follows an agenda.
Charles practices his strokes during swim practice for the upcoming swim tournament. He swam the 50-yard backstroke and 100-yard freestyle and came in first for both. “His practices are great for Charles. He loves dancing — moving sports. That's like his bread and butter and it's his lifeline. It really gives him purpose when he goes to these things,” Yvonne said.
Charles holds his finger up in celebration after winning the gold medal in the softball long throw during the Special Olympics Alamance County Spring Games on April 6, 2023. Charles looks forward to this event each year, especially this year as it was the first time it was held since before the pandemic.
Charles plays one of his favorite games Garage Band during his downtime. Video games and movies can be seen all over his house. Charles is very into movies and dates and always remembers those that he has seen and the date for upcoming releases and his favorite events “Spring games are on the 29th,” “Prom is on May 2nd,” “The new Guardians movie comes out on the 5th.”
Charles dances during the Masquerade Prom for those with developmental disabilities. Dancing is one of Charles’ favorite activities. “He is always go, go, go. I have to remind him to drink his water,” Yvonne said as she tracked him down on the dance floor to give him a water bottle.