Abilities First

The History of Abilities First

Since 1958, Abilities First has been providing services for individuals with disabilities. The organization's mission is to empower people with disabilities to achieve their unique potential from birth through life.  Abilities First began with a small group of parent pioneers in Middletown, Ohio. 

school for people with disabilitiesIn the 1950’s, there were no programs or services available in Middletown for children with physical disabilities. School was not an option they could choose. In response to the lack of these services, a local group of parents formed an organization to provide therapy and education to children and adults with disabilities. These services were provided in the Lorenzo Dow Doty homestead on Curtis Street and the organization was named Doty House.  Doty House became well known for providing quality services for persons with developmental delays, disabilities and other special needs. Its early development was made possible by the efforts of many volunteers from the Middletown area. Volunteers, including many from Armco, completed needed repairs and construction on the Doty home. Local volunteers served on the Board of Trustees and assisted in therapy services, transportation and Boy and Girl Scout programs. Physicians volunteered time to help the follow through of the early therapy programs. 

In addition to time, donations were received from individuals and organizations, and these donations allowed Doty House to grow and provide quality services to an increasing number of clients. Robert Gardner was one individual who contributed to Doty House, and in 1968 the organization moved to a facility on Timber Trail Drive, named the Robert B. Gardner Center. Special education and early intervention services were provided at this site through the mid 1980’s. 

As Doty House responded to the changing needs of the community, it continued to expand and offer a variety of services including residential, integrated childcare, summer respite, Language Preschool, and physical, occupational and speech therapy. An adult employment program was added in 1993 and was called Community Employment Opportunities (CEO). 

The name of the organization was changed from Doty House to Abilities First in 1994 to better signify the mission. Abilities First started a hands-on discovery education program for students in 1998 and DEAF Education services program through Employment Services in 2000. In 2002, Beginnings Children’s Center was reaccredited for 4 years by NAEYC, Community Employment Opportunities (CEO) was reaccredited for 3 years by CARF, and Doty House and Hopewell Residential was accredited by CARF for 3 years. 

Abilities First received Tier 2 recognition for the Ohio Award for Excellence 2003. In 2004, Abilities First changed program names; Beginnings Children’s Center was changed to Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC), STARS Therapies was changed to Pediatric Therapies, and Community Employment Opportunities (CEO) was changed to Employment Services.  

The Adult Day Program opened in the Independence Center at Abilities First Commons in 2006.

Abilities First celebrated a 50th anniversary in 2008. Adult Services Community Living began in March 2008 with their first home which provided in-home care services for adults with special needs, 24 hours a day/seven days a week with qualified staff.  

In 2009, our Early Childhood Learning Center received their Two Star Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) rating (the first center in the area to achieve this). Pediatric Therapies started the Autism Preschool Program - STEP (Specialized Therapeutic and Educational Preschool).

In 2012, Abilities First won the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics presented by the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau.In 2013, Employment Services was reaccredited for 3 years by CARF and Abilities First Early Childhood Learning Center received their certification as a Three Star Step Up to Quality Center by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

In 2016, the Autism Learning Center expanded to a third classroom, our Adult Day Program opened a second location and the Early Childhood Learning Center received their accreditation as a Four Star Step Up to Quality Center from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Today, Abilities First is focused on the outcomes of our mission activities.  We strive to be the region's first choice resource for people with disabilities and their families.  

Abilities First Development Department offers a number of ways you can support local children and adults with disabilities.

Please contact Development Department at 513-423-9496 if you have any questions.
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About Us

From birth through life, Abilities First of Middletown and Franklin, Ohio provides a broad array of individual and group programs for children and adults with disabilities.  

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Services for Children

Potential is Made Possible through our coordinated services - Autism Learning Center, Free Therapy Screenings, Pediatric Therapies, and Integrated Early Childhood Learning.

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Services for Adults

Adult independent living skills are an important aspect of creating a fulfilling life. Our residential and adult day programs provide a place of security, acceptance and a sense of belonging.

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Get Involved

We need YOU to help support local children and adults with disabilities. Donate to our mission, volunteer at one of our locations or special events, advocate for people with disabilities.