I'm wondering where to find
help for my 6th grade daughter in reading. She was adopted at age 9
and is now 12 and in 6th grade. Although she reads long chapter books,
she tends to miss the thread, or the important points. If she sees the
movie first (like Harry Potter) she does better. She has a great memory,
and will simply memorize verbatim definitions and answers from her textbooks,
but her comprehension, and ability to explain anything in depth or with
supporting detail is weak. Her teachers don't see anything seriously
wrong, she gets by.
Her ability to handle frustration is almost nonexistent; if she finds
something hard, she immediately quits and melts down. So getting her
to finish a book or stick with anything at all is difficult.
She is very competitive, but she is falling ever farther behind.
From a message of a parent
B. Gindis, Ph.D.
Problems with reading comprehension are typical for international
adoptees, particularly those adopted after their six birthday and
leaving in the American family less than 5 years. Many exhibited reading
comprehension around the 2nd to 4th grade; this often comes as a surprise
for the families, as these children do not show any noticeable language
skills deficits up to this moment: they are fluent in oral conversations,
and seemingly do not differ at all in this aspect from their peers
in the classroom.
Based on my experience with hundreds of internationally adopted children
undergoing psychological assessments at the BGCenter, I can trace
the roots of their reading comprehension problems to 3 major issues:
- Lack of cultural context awareness.
- Delayed cognitive processes and skills necessary
for a speedy cognitive/ academic language acquisition.
- Emotional problems related to weakened nervous system
and developmental trauma, lower self-esteem and motivation, which
often block cognitive processes involved in reading activity.
>A lot more research would be required to quantify and
describe the inter-relations between these three aspects of an internationally
adopted childs reading comprehension skills development, but
in practical terms, separation of these aspects may help parents to
approach each of them through a specific methodology that already
Stating this, I have to say that your situation has
some specificity: in some aspects your daughter differs from many
of my patients. As you described, she has good retrieval skills, she
memorizes verbatim definitions and answers from her textbooks
and she is a good speller. Still, the above described factors are
applicable to your case:
- Your daughter has been in the country for 4 years.
Therefore, I think that the first factor - lack of cultural context
awareness, is still applicable to her. You wrote: If she sees
the movie first (like Harry Potter) she does better. That
is exactly what I meant by the lack of cultural context.
- Your daughter's cognitive/academic language (not
cognitive skills per se) may not be strong enough for reading comprehension.
Understanding directions, organizing information, building a database
of general knowledge, developing effective problem-solving strategies,
understanding information as it becomes more syntactically complex,
and expressing herself effectively are all dependent on what is
called cognitive/academic language. Do you or your teachers know
what your daughters level of functioning in the cognitive/
academic (not communicative) aspect of the English language is?
- You listed poor concentration, lack of motivation
and persistence, low frustration level, etc. as contributing elements
into your daughters reading problems. You are correct in your
observation: this is what is described by the third factor (emotional/motivational
What can be done to prevent your daughter from falling
behind even more?
- First, she needs a comprehensive assessment that goes
beyond typical school testing to see if any medical diagnosis is applicable;
to determine how her strengths can be used in remediation; to develop
an intense programming for her to help her catch up before CCD settles
in (please read about CCD at: http://www.bgcenter.com/BGPublications/CCD_in_international_adoptees.htm
- Second, your daughter may need specific remediation in cognitive/academic
- Third, she may need specific instructions in strategies for understanding
the reading discourse.
- Forth, in addition to the above, you need to work with your daughter
in the family.
Raise your daughters cultural awareness, the contextual knowledge
of her reading material. In general, go back culturally to the beginnings:
songs, riddles, cartoons, books, images, games, routines, favorite places,
sounds, food, activities, interactions with adults and pets everything
that surrounds a child born into this culture has to be re-introduced
into your adopted childs life and be reinforced through multiple
repetitions. Help her learn about her surroundings: its just as
important as learning the ABCs. Go as far back developmentally, as you
can, making sure every new piece of information and experience is linked
to something she has already acquired.
Absence of appropriate cognitive strategies or ineffective and non-persistent
deployment of those strategies is a common cause of comprehension failure
in IA children. Reading comprehension is a process of integration of
decoding ability, vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge of the topic.
Consider relevant strategies to make sense of a text and understand
it. Comprehension strategies are specific, learned procedures
that foster active, competent, self-regulated, and intentional reading
(Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002, p. 177). In many cases, after assessing
my patients and determining the specificity of their issues, I recommended
reading comprehension strategy instruction (CSI). CSI refers to a training
methodology where activities are divided into subgroups, e.g., vocabulary
training and reinforcement, text enhancement (e.g., underlining and
highlighting), self-questioning. CSI is appropriate for children who
consistently fail to develop a coherent understanding of material that
is read. The failure to develop understanding may be generalized across
large numbers of different types of reading materials or be restricted
to domains with which the reader lacks familiarity. CSI has been validated
for both generalized comprehension failures and for specific domains
only (e.g. science texts).