Our History

Abilis (ABLE-ISS) was founded in October 1951 by a group of Greenwich parents who wanted their children with developmental disabilities to attend their local public schools. With the support of the local United Way (then known as Community Chest) and Junior League, these parents lobbied the local Board of Education to change its policy so these children could be educated.

By the next fall, they had succeeded, and a classroom was created for children with developmental disabilities.

But Abilis didn’t stop there. It became a force throughout the region for people with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, as well as their families – and has been a strong advocate for inclusion and the rights of people with disabilities ever since.

By the 1970s, Abilis was operating the first all – abilities kindergarten classroom in Greenwich. Employment support and residential services were added later in the decade, as Abilis deepened its commitment to serving people with developmental disabilities throughout the lifespan.

Abilis is synonymous with the word “first.” It was one of the first nonprofits in the region to recognize the significance of autism, forming a dedicated program in its Youth Services to support children with suspected or diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families in 1998. In 2012, the Abilis Autism Program received funding from Autism Speaks to document its acclaimed LIFE (Lifeskills, Independence, Friendships, Employment) program for young adults with classic autism who are making the transition from high school to the adult world.

Abilis also was among the first to understand the need for bilingual services for Spanish – speaking families with children who have delays in their development or developmental disabilities. Recognizing the tremendous feelings of isolation these families experience, Abilis founded support groups and Abilis Playshop – an inclusive bilingual playgroup for babies and toddlers, where parents can gather to learn about their community and ways they can support their children in the home.

Likewise, Abilis Adult Services is known for innovation. The first woman with a developmental disability in Connecticut to own her home did so with support from Abilis. Abilis has pioneered the homeshares model, matching a typical roommate with one who has a developmental disability in homes throughout the community. Employment programs include Abilis Gifts, a retail – store training site at our headquarters with a signature product line made by adults who are served by Abilis. Microgreens grown at Abilis are sold to local high – end restaurants for use in their dishes, creating more jobs for adults with developmental disabilities.

Abilis is proud of its history and its steadfast commitment to serving people with developmental disabilities throughout the lifespan.