According to US State Department statistics, over 11,000 children
were adopted internationally in the year 2010, with 2,803 of those
children being school-aged (between 5-17 years old). Despite a staggering
50% decline in overall inter-country adoptions in the last 10 years,
statistics on adoption of older children continue to remain steady
(appropriately 3,000 older children were adopted each year, for the
past decade). (Retrieved from http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php
Jul 29, 2011).
Subsequent to the school aged child's arrival to US, one of the first
considerations that arises, secondary to health concerns and transitional
adjustments, is the issue of schooling and appropriate school based
services provision. In contrast to children adopted at younger ages,
who typically have an opportunity to acquire some English language
skills before an academic placement takes place, older international
adoptees lack this luxury. Unfortunately, due to their unique linguistic
status, many school districts are at a loss regarding best services
options for these children.
Despite the prevalence of available research on this subject, one
myth that continues to persist is that older internationally adopted
children are "bilingual" and as such should receive remedial
services similar to those received by newly entering the country bilingual
children (e.g., ESL classes).
It is very important to understand that most internationally adopted
children rapidly lose their birth language, sometimes in as little
as several months post arrival (Gindis, 2005), since they are often
adopted by parents who do not speak the child's first language and
as such are unable/unwilling to maintain it. Not only are these children
not bilingual, they are also not 'truly' monolingual, since their
first language is lost rather rapidly, while their second language
has been gained minimally at the time of loss. Moreover, even during
the transition period during which international adoptees are rapidly
losing their native language, their birth language is still of no
use to them, since it's not functional in their monolingual, English
speaking only, home and school environments. As a result of the above
constraints, select researchers have referred to this pattern of language
gain, as "second, first language acquisition" (e.g., Roberts,
et al., 2005), since the child is acquiring his/her new language literally
This brings me to another myth, that given several years of immersion
in a new language rich, home and school environments, most internationally
adopted children with (mild) language delays will catch up to their
non-adopted monolingual peers academically, without the benefit of
any additional services.
This concept requires clarification, since the majority of parents
adopting older children, often have difficulty understanding the extent
of their child's speech and language abilities in their native language
at the time of adoption, and the implications for new language transference.
Research on speech language abilities of older internationally adopted
children is still rather limited, despite available studies to date.
Some studies (e.g., Glennen & Masters, 2002; Krakow & Roberts,
2003, etc) suggest that age of adoption is strongly correlated with
language outcomes. In other words, older internationally adopted children
are at risk of having poorer language outcomes than children adopted
at younger ages. That is because the longer the child stays in an
institutional environment the greater is the risk of a birth language
delay. Children in institutional care frequently experience neglect,
lack of language stimulation, lack of appropriate play experiences,
lack of enriched community activities, as well as inadequate learning
settings all of which have long lasting negative impact on their language
development. It is also important to understand that language delays
in birth language transfer and become language delays in a new language.
These delays will typically continue to persist unless appropriate
intervention, in the form of speech language services, is provided.
So what are the options available to parents adopting older
school age children with respect to determination of their child's
speech and language abilities?