In the early months after his birth, Melvin Lowry and his twin sister, Selena, behaved very much the same. Throughout their infancy, Selena continued to develop, to speak, crawl and walk at a normal pace while Melvin's development lagged behind.
When Melvin entered the Easter Seals Day Care Program at age 1, he was not walking, talking or even crawling.
"You'd call his name and he wouldn't even look at you," said his father, also named Melvin. "He would just lie there."
Yesterday, watching Melvin playing with Selena after Easter Seals graduation ceremonies in Northwest Washington, his father remarked on the progress that his son, diagnosed as developmentally delayed, had made in two years.
Melvin was one of 19 toddlers to graduate from the Easter Seals program. Wearing white gowns and escorted by their parents or other relatives, the smiling youngsters went on stage to receive diplomas.
Many of the graduates had extremely limited motor control and language skills when they first went to the Easter Seals Children's Center at 2800 13th St. NW. Some are still unable to walk or crawl. But most of the children have developed their cognitive, language and motor skills to a level that will enable them to attend Head Start, a special-education preschool or regular preschool programs at D.C. public schools.
Twenty-eight infants and toddlers, ages 7 months to 3 years, attend the Easter Seals full-day therapeutic treatment program designed for children with a variety of disabilities, from cerebral palsy to blindness to complications resulting from crack addition.
"Parents are distraught when they come to us because they've been told by a physician that their child can't walk or talk," said Nanci Marconi, executive director of Easter Seals for the Metropolitan Washington area. "These children have made significant strides. It's rewarding to see their development over two or three years."
From 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., children are involved in individual and group activities which are structured to develop their language, motor, cognitive and social skills. Students living in the District are bused to the center, where they have breakfast and lunch and play with toys, sing songs, go on field trips, among other activities.
The graduating youngsters have just passed through Senior Week, which includes a prom, Beach Day, Clash Day and a class trip. At the prom, little boys donned ties and cummerbunds and the girls wore pretty dresses and danced with their young friends and teachers. The staff set up wading pools in the school's back yard for Beach Day. Parents dressed their youngsters in mismatched clothes for Clash Day, and they went to the zoo for their senior class trip.
The Children's Center began offering therapeutic day care about eight years ago to a limited number of students from the District and Southern Maryland. Last year the number of children in the program was increased to meet the needs of more families.