NEWBERRY — Helping a friend to wait tables in The Phantom Cafe one day revealed a calling to Dorothy Chocklett.
One of her customers was a mother of a boy with autism and she overheard her talking about an autism conference.
Chocklett was all ears.
The two bonded and she gave her resources from the S.C. Autism Society. Those resources and more firsthand knowledge from a mother and advocate cemented Chocklett’s call to become a teacher of autistic children.
A job opportunity came from the friendship when that parent needed someone to be a home therapist for her son.
As a college student Chocklett worked in the summers with disabilities and special needs, so she jumped at the chance to work in Newberry.
Chocklett said she fell in love with the work the first day on the job. Since then, service has been a way of life for Chocklett.
The highlight for her was when the young boy, who was nonverbal, began saying her name, pronouncing it “Dobby.”
“At that point (seeing that breakthrough) I could not imagine myself doing anything else,” she said. “At age 21 I knew that it was the most challenging thing I had ever done.”
The child eventually was ring bearer in her wedding.
As she transitioned from being an at-home therapist to being the young man’s school teacher at Boundary Street Elementary, “Dobby” the house therapist grew up to became NCSD teacher Dorothy Chocklett.
“In second grade I decided to become a teacher,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I became passionate about special education. I was just drawn to autism and wanting to make a difference in the lives of people by helping figure out what was going on (with an autistic person’s communication and socialization). It’s a challenging behavioral puzzle to identify what causes/triggers the behavior and how to fix it.”
She came to Newberry College because of the education program but until that time had no exposure to special education because the Catholic school she attended did not have a special education department.
Practicums led to more awareness of what her strengths were, patience among them.
Though Newberry College at the time no longer had a special education program, she became certified K-6 and took electives and courses that helped her learn more about educating exceptional children.
The training and trusting her instincts paid off and in 2001 she started getting credentials to work with autistic children.
She was the 2003 SC Autism Society Therapist of the Year for her work in the home.
This is her 10th year teaching autistic children.
“I love the children and would take them home with me if I could,” she said. “I truly love them as if they were my own and am their momma at school.”
When not teaching most of her time is spent with her family including a 3-year-old child. The family is growing as she is having a baby in May.