Opportunity, Community, Ability

Diagnosed with autism at an early age, Matthew was 12 years old when his behavior analyst asked his mother, “Where will Matthew live when he is older?” It’s a question that socked her that day and is the foundation of OCA, Opportunity Community Ability.

Parents, teachers and therapists, including Matthew’s mother Silvia Haas and his behavior analyst Margaret Newman Thornton, founded OCA in 2008. At the time, there were not enough resources available to Central Florida families living with autism. The founding sisters knew school-aged children and adults with autism and other disabilities needed more opportunities to engage in age-appropriate activities with their typical peers, so they set their sights on creating programs to meet the needs of those families.

Today, OCA offers resources, including after-school programs, applied behavior analysis, vocational training, Special Olympics training, summer camps, and respite and social activities. These opportunities were once unavailable or difficult to find. OCA provides a typical programmatic experience while developing functional skillsets so any participant can independently navigate within their community, with or without support.

Before OCA, Matthew and many children had limited options for socialization and recreation. Today, at 21 years old, Matthew is a happy young man who goes to dances and the theater and learns job skills, just like his older brothers.

For many parents, OCA provides an opportunity for their child to be accepted and understood. The organization focuses on ability instead of disability while ensuring age-appropriate activities in a community-based setting. OCA creates an environment for all who walk through the doors to have an opportunity, in the community to maximize their ability.

Ultimately, OCA strives to fulfill its vision of building a multi-functional village where people, including Matthew, will work, live and play in a community setting.

How You Can Help:
1. Donate money. Charitable donations allow OCA to offer all services at a reduced rate.
2. Donate time. Volunteers are needed to work in the new Adult Vocational Training (AVT) storefront off of Lee Road and at the school break camp and aftercare programs.
3. Donate items like paint, brushes and other craft supplies for participants in the AVT program as well as a large metal supply cabinet for storage.


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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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