Sunday, June 24, 2012

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 4

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything about the language issues that I've been researching.  I thought I'd offer up a short update, with certainly more to come.

First, in case you missed the first three parts to this series and are interested in reading them, here are the links to those posts:

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 1

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 2

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 3

I've continued reading and poking into various little pockets of research that seem relevant to Seth's language and learning issues.  So far, everything I've read has been consistent with the first three posts I wrote on the subject and consistent that this is most likely a language issue for Seth and not (yet) a learning disability.  If anything I have been spurred further into taking some kind of action because the little that has been written about this subject clearly leads me to understand that if this is not acted upon, it won't simply fix itself.

We've decided that we will not pursue a formal assessment of him.  Yet.  Though I think action is required, I don't think a formal assessment is going to be particularly helpful at this juncture - the time may well come, maybe even later this year, but not yet.  My reasons are as follows:
  • He's only a year home; most people suggest that a child not be assessed until they are home two+ years, primarily for language reasons (ironically!).  Given that internationally adopted children cannot be assessed in their language of birth (either because they have forgotten the language already or because the language is not readily available), it's tough to come up with a relevant result.  
  • Seth's had enough to deal with in the past few years.  Whatever language and/or other issues that kid has, they are ultimately secondary to the importance of allowing, and enabling, him to relax in his new life.  He needs time still.  Almost every week, Geoff and I think that he's a little more relaxed than he was the week before, and I see over and over how much more easily he learns things when he's relaxed or having fun.  When I had an opportunity, in February, to speak one-on-one with Dr. Gordon Neufeld about Seth, it was also his suggestion that we should first focus on reducing the anxiety that trauma invariably causes and allowing him time/space to continue to settle in.  One year, in my opinion, is not a lot of time to deal with his 'stuff.'

That absolutely does not mean that I will do nothing at this point.  That would so not be like me!  I am hoping shortly to connect with two women by phone who have indicated that they would be happy to help me and who both have lots and lots of work experience working with kids like/similar to Seth.  I am so grateful to them, and can hardly wait to talk with them.

In addition to continuing to research, I have also just signed up for an online course that I will complete over the next three+ weeks.  By way of background, I will say this:
  • The author whose research and writings have been the most helpful to me thus far is a Dr. Boris Gindis, who is a developmental psychologist based in New York.  He seems to head up the BGCentre Online School in New York and is their principal instructor.  Not only does he have a varied clinical practice with children, but he also does research in the field of international adoption and language as it relates to older children.  Whereas many researchers and psychologists write about issues related to international adoptees who are age four and under at the time of adoption, very very few have anything to say about children who are five and older.  I've had to laugh at the number of times researchers note at the end of their publications that more research needs to be done in understanding the language issues of older/school age international adoptees.  I feel like saying well, just DO it already - I've got your first subject right here! 
Anywhoo...before I get going on a tangent...

One of the courses offered by the BGCentre Online School is called the "SmartStart program: Helping your Internationally Adopted Child Develop a Foundation for Learning."  One of the purposes of this course is to "understand major remedial issues of internationally adopted post-institutionalized preschool and school age children..." and from what I've read, it seems to be the most directly applicable program for a kids with language acquisition issues (and the potential for cognitive issues)  such as Seth.

I just signed up for this course and have twenty-five days to complete it - no small feat when my life is already pretty darn busy.  The course is apparently very methodical in how to teach a child how to learn, including suggesting a very specific methodology and even vocabulary.

Here are a few snippets of information that I've taken from the website about the SmartStart program:
  • "[The SmartStart program] utilizes typical family activities but bears in mind the specificity of international adoptees and points to basic cognitive concepts and skills which may not have formed in the child's earlier development.  The program intends to systematically stimulate cognitive language development in children ages 3-8."
  • "At the heart of SmartStart lies the idea of making traditional family interactions cognitively and linguistically remedial for a child. These activities are not randomly picked; they are selected to reflect what is currently known about best practices in promoting cognitive, social, and language development o young children. The SmartStart methodology stresses the utmost importance of adult mediation, lacking in the early stages of the child's learning. The first unit is an explanation of the principles and the other seven are specific sets of activities.  A unique and prominent feature of each unit is a vocabulary section: which words to introduce and how to explain an activity to the child in order to make it more remedially meaningful."
I am simply astonished by how little these issues seem to be talked about.  I'm fairly well versed in matters of international adoption and participate in various forums exclusively focused on international adoption (one even that has to do with adopting older children!) and this issue just isn't  topic of conversation.  I think that many other adoptive parents, like me until six seeks ago, have simply concluded that these are issues of malnutrition and trauma and have to be worked with as such. I can't tell you the number of emails/posts/conversations I've had in the past few weeks with other adoptive parents who had no idea that there was another possibility.  Given that many people are adopting older children these days I'm just a little shocked that there's not more 'out there' on this subject.

But is what it is.  I'm certainly not going to be an original researcher here, but it does feel a little like trying to find a needle in a haystack and I do hope to become somewhat knowledgeable on these issues so that I can help my own child and also be a resource to other parents who might need pointing in the right direction.

I don't know why these language-related posts get so long, but there it is.  I'm pretty much done for now.  But I'll be back on the subject - at the very least once I've finished this course in the next three weeks.


  1. This is re your language post--
    The course sounds fantastic! I hope you find yourself encouraged as you learn. From my vantage point I think you're doing just what Seth needs by giving him time to settle and weep out his frustration and grief; plus find inner and actual space to laugh and play.
    I chuckled when you said said it wouldn't be like you to do nothing. Lol.
    Because most of us learned language 'naturally' I think it's easy to assume that older international adoptees will do so too given time and a compassionate environment. To see what else is going on with the research is therefore surprising and maybe shocking, and hopefully eventually hopeful! Thank goodness you're curious and 'determined'.

  2. am looking forward to learning through you. Thanks for being willing to pass along your knowledge!

  3. Hi Ruth,
    I am looking forward to seeing if you find this course useful. We have been home 7 months with our 3 year old from China. I find myself wanting to do some structured play to help with language and learning in general, but don't know where to start. I hope you find time to study and that the course if helpful.

  4. Ruth,
    I laughed out loud when I read this post!! I just bought two discs from BGCentre!! Crazy how our searching landed us in the same spot! I guess there really isn't much else out there! I've found the articles on the website so great, and we have started to work with an educational therapist. She started working with our 6 year old this week, and it is amazing to watch her work. She's worked with older adopted kids, but mostly works with autistic children. She has some amazing ideas. Our goal is to help Etta's vocabulary along (they are doing a colors unit now - games, books, crafts, etc.). The best part is that Etta LOVES it, she feels successful, which makes me so happy.

    Can't wait to hear how the online course is. I need to get working on the discs. :)