For most children, the new school year is just beginning and graduation ceremonies are a distant thought. For a very special group of children in the Community Services Early Intervention Program, a recent graduation picnic marked the end of some hard work and promised a brighter future full of many possibilities.
The Early Intervention Program serves children from birth to age 3. Children are sometimes referred by doctors, but primarily enter the program after concerned parents call asking for help. Frequent issues include physical delays in walking and talking, eating problems like chewing and swallowing, and problems interacting and playing with others. Some children come with medical diagnoses, such as Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some children were premature, born as early as 23 weeks. Whatever the reason, each child and family have their own unique issues.
For Julie, whose twins Cole and Connor have sensory processing disorders, the program has been a big help. “They have both received wonderful occupational and speech therapy. Occupational therapy has helped the twins learn how to play well with others. I’m glad they received this help before they turned 3 while the brain was still malleable. “
For Paisley, 2, and her parents, Lai and Darius, the program has provided speech and physical therapy. Paisley was not sitting up on her own when she first started the program; now she is crawling and attempting to walk. Her speech has also improved. Darius would encourage anyone who has concerns to call. “The program is great and is tailored to the individual child. They will accommodate you and come to your house or wherever help is needed.” Lai adds, “Results don’t happen overnight, but with hard work and continuing efforts, the results are there.”
This year’s graduation picnic has been a long time coming. Once a yearly affair, the celebration was discontinued in the early 1990s. Thanks to the efforts of early interventionists Brenda Dennie and Mariluz Gonzalez, this year saw more than 175 children celebrating graduation with a picnic at Lake Ridge Park. The children “graduate” once they have accomplished their individual goals or turn 3. Children still needing help after graduation can move into Child Find or a school-based program.
“It is important to celebrate all the hard work and progress the children and their families have accomplished. However long we work with them — some as long as three years — we feel like part of the family,” said Dennie. “We try and keep in touch and get lots of emails and pictures, especially during the holidays.”
This sentiment is echoed by many of the participants. According to Julie, “Our therapists are like part of our family. When the boys talk about their family, the Early Intervention therapists are included.”
For more information on the Early Intervention Program, visit www.pwcgov.org/cs
or call 703-792-7879.