Myths about school issues of internationally
The factors that may affect school
performance of international adoptees (IA) can be divided into
two closely related and in most cases intertwined risk groups:
The first is called
the primary or physical disability factor. These are genetically-based
deficiencies, physical, mental, and neurological impairments,
such as mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, autism,
cerebral palsy, astigmatism, deafness, etc. Some of these
factors could be present to a relatively mild degree and
not easily recognized by professionals during a pre-adoption
The second one is often
called the secondary or social disability factor: a child's
development may be negatively affected by cultural deprivation,
lack of positive social mediation and stimulation, and/or
an abusive or neglectful environment. These conditions
may lead to maladaptive behavior, lack of or limited academic
skills, emotional immaturity, language delays, deficiency
in self-regulation and other problems that are detrimental
to school functioning. Orphanage-raised children may not
develop certain cognitive and social/emotional capacities
because they never had a chance to learn and practice
these skills. They may have only a limited opportunity
to participate in age-appropriate learning activities
(e.g. drawing, copying, coloring, and other pencil-&-paper
activities) and they may be deficient in age-appropriate
self-regulation of behavior and emotions because they
never had proper adult models to imitate or guidance to
Many, if not all
internationally adopted children in this age group, should be
screened for possible deficiencies in their school readiness
and specifically prepared for school education. For
some children, who have "red flags" in their medical
records, preschool educational remediation is a must. Generally,
the longer and more severe the deprivations are and the earlier
in life they occur, the more damaging they can be.
For children adopted between the ages 3 to
8, the expectations are that they will enter kindergarten at the
age 5 and first grade at the age 6. However, developmentally,
many of them are delayed in terms of American standards for preschoolers.
A post-institutionalized child of a certain chronological age
may be much younger developmentally and functionally. In other
words, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral immaturity is the
"trademark" of post-institutionalized children.
Many parents try to get informed and do everything within their
power to obtain the information: they do research on the Internet,
read books, subscribe to adoptive parents networks and publications.
But myths and misconceptions about education of international
adoptees still persist.
the examples of misconceptions a lot of parents still have
professionals (teachers, administrators, school personnel, etc)
may hold an unsubstantiated belief that international adoptees
are similar to bilingual children from recent immigrant families
and should be educated in the same manner.
Reality: what is significant in
your child's medical and educational records for future school progress?
I use the phrase Red Flag to indicate a possibility
of school related issues. Will the problems necessarily occur?
May be not, but there is a significant chance for that.
Children are known for their resilience and the
ability to cope with the most horrible experiences. They may recover
on their own. But, as a rule, Red Flags mean that you need
to pay attention to these conditions and call for professional
help to resolve the issues.
Red flags in medical and educational records that
relate to future school progress
This term literally means "brain
damage of unknown etiology from the birth trauma" or
"general weakness of the central nervous system (CNS)
due to the birth trauma". This is, indeed, just a "catch-all"
broad term, often used in Russian medical documents. It aims
to indicate a child "at risk" in general. For example,
this diagnosys is given automatically to all premature babies.
Many children from orphanages have this diagnosis. Statistically
speaking, it does relate to school difficulties, but the individual
differences are pretty broad here.
Delay in psycho-motor development, Delay in
language and psychological development,
in psychological development
These are not medical diagnoses, but
rather the terms used to indicate observed deficiencies in
child development in comparison with his or her peers. The
degree of delays may be very different: from a relatively
mild to significant. In most cases this is a result of a combination
of neurological weaknesses and/or health issues with social/cultural
deprivation and neglect. The degree of needed rehabilitation
is also different: from minimal remedial and support services
to full time special education program. These descriptions
should not be dismissed as "nonsense" merely because
they are found in so many medical histories of international
adoptees. If such description is found in the child's medical
documentation, a psycho-educational evaluation on arrival
should be requested.
This term means mental retardation.
Identification of children with mental retardation in the
republics of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is
different in many ways from that in the United States. Many
adoptive parents reported that their children diagnosed with
"oligophrenia" are doing rather well in school.
I also came across such a situation on a number of cases.
On the other hand, in most of the cases I consulted on "oligophrenia",
this diagnosis was confirmed as either "mental retardation"
or "severe learning disability". The bottom line
is that this diagnosis should be taken seriously, but not
as the final say. A psychoeducational evaluation on arrival
is strongly recommended in this case. For more details please
read an abbreviated version of my article
Understanding Your Child's Medical Report,