Several studies have tried to determine whether language acquisition in internationally adopted children will follow the same patterns as children who haven't lived in an orphanage with multiple caregivers. Research by Joy Geren, Jesse Snedeker, and Laura Ax stated that vocabulary increased as the length of time that a child had lived with their adoptive family increased. They felt the child's age at adoption did not predict vocabulary size. They noted that the early stage of vocabulary growth in internationally adopted preschoolers was very rapid. Of the children that they studied, children who had only been with their adoptive families for three months had acquired a vocabulary equivalent in size to that of an average 24 month old. The 24 month old infant would have been speaking for at least a year to acquire the same vocabulary size.
Between three and nine months post-arrival, children progressed as much as average developing children between the ages of 24 and 30 months.
The pattern of acquisition was the same for adopted and non-adopted preschoolers, with children learning nouns, and then adding verbs to their vocabulary when their vocabulary had been 50 and 200 words. Verbs and adjectives then continued to increase. As would be expected, there was a correlation between the size of vocabulary and the complexity of the children's utterances.
Research by Rena A. Krakow, Shannon Tao, and Jenny Roberts compared two groups of children. One group had been adopted as infants and the second group was adopted as toddlers. While they found the older the child at adoption, the greater the delays that could be expected, most of their subjects appeared to be catching up after one year post-adoption.
Sharon Glennen and M. Gay Masters did research to try to develop guidelines to identify the internationally adopted children that are in need of speech and language services. They studied 130 children adopted from Eastern Europe. They divided children into four groups depending on their age at adoption: less than 12 months, 13-18 months, 19-24 months, and 25-30 months. Language emerged quickly for each of their groups, but there the older the child was, the more time it took. Their youngest group was delayed by 5 or 6 months, and had average skills approximately 24 months post-adoption. The second group still had delays at 36 months. The third group was delayed one to three months after 18 months with their adoptive family. The final group still had delays after 37-40 months with their adoptive families.
Hopefully, as more research is published, there will be greater understanding about the needs of our children.
Children who are adopted past the infant and toddler age will have a lot of work to do to develop their new language. They're behind already, as they didn't have the intense interaction that a child in a nurturing family would experience, which is support and encouragement for developing language. It is very likely that their first language would be below average when compared to peers from their home country, who were not living in orphanages. They haven't had the experiences, rich with opportunities for learning, that a child would have in a supportive family environment. They've been exposed to less one-on-one attention from a consistent caregiver, less educational experiences, and less reading, which really helps children increase their vocabulary.
Research by Karen E. Pollock showed that younger groups showed slow development at first, with rapid acceleration after nine to twelve months post-adoption. Older age groups had more words when they were tested,but they also had the greatest gains to increase before reaching the levels of non-adopted peers.
Research by Tony Xing Tan and Yi Yang studied 186 girls living in the US., adopted from China. They were adopted between the ages of three months and 27 months and were all 18-35 months old at the time of his study. He stated that most children needed approximately 16 months to catch up to native speakers in the area of vocabulary, and average phrase length expressive language.
Research by Blachowicz, Fisher, Cole, and Watts-Taffe in 2006 told us that children with average or above average verbal abilities begin school with a receptive vocabulary of between five thousand and ten thousand words. By the time average and above-average native English speakers leave high school, they've acquired approximately forty thousand receptive words; more than three thousand new words for each year that they've been in school. (Nagy and Herman 1987).
It is likely that our children haven't had the fine-motor experiences that also prepare a child for writing. Provide lots of opportunity for play with clay or containers filled with dried peas, rice, or beans. Help your child color with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Give your child opportunities to cut, glue, and explore.
This is an article that explains that there is a window of time that seems to begin to close when children are not offered opportunities to to learn, early in their lives. Even when they are in a rich learning environment, learning may be difficult. Click here.
One of our occupational therapists told me that children really benefit from parents who have an intuitive sense of the dance that children need each day, to move in and out of stimulating environments. The goal is to continually stretch a child's ability to deal with her sensory input without overwhelming her. This means recognizing her early distress when there is too much light, too much noise, too much smell, and too much activity. Learning how to do the dance ensures that our kids are participating in as much as they're able to, without being overwhelmed. I needed to notice the little signs of distress, and move one daughter out of environments that were just "too much". Rocking with her quietly was a big help. The dance with another daughter is much different; she becomes disregulated, as well, and too active.
A lot of our kids are affected with language delays and sensory issues. I was fascinated with the brain and learning, as a teacher, and took several graduate classes. I was more curious about the brain after experiencing two concussions within a three month period. I was living with what happened when the brain got whacked around, and it wasn’t good. A colleague, was a wonderful mentor, and presented great workshops for teachers in my former school district. Thanks, Margie! All these things helped me prepare for dealing with sensory issues my kids faced.
My older daughter was overwhelmed quickly by sensory input. She was petrified of normal, environmental sounds. Our kids have lacked so many early experiences that prime the brain for dealing with sensory input. My baby was 12 pounds at 12 months and couldn’t roll over or sit up. She had very minimal muscle tone. She had spent most of her life on her back. I don’t think she’d ever had tummy time.
Movement is so important to the brain, and my baby didn’t experience much movement before her adoption. I learned that tummy time was very important, from my friend Sherry’s husband. He is a chiropractor and came to meet Hannah. Hannah didn’t like tummy time, but Frank, the father of six, reassured me crying might even help her get a little stronger!
Hannah was small enough to fit into a swing, and as she grew, I purchased a swing could be hung from studs in the ceiling. We used this year round. Swinging is incredibly powerful for the brain; it helps organize information and sensory input. There’s a reason your mama took you to the park to swing, and look how great you turned out! Swing those kids of yours!
The state provides early intervention services for children at risk. The therapy can be delivered in your home, at daycare, or in a clinic. Pursue these services if your child has delays, as you'll never receive more generous services, unless you're independently wealthy and cost is not an issue.
I was once told that I could relax now that my daughter was receiving speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and developmental therapy. These interventions were not what healed my daughter; therapists taught me what I needed each week so I knew exactly what skill we were working on for my daughter. As I was present for almost all of the therapies, I could observe the therapist, make sure I understood what we were working toward, and then follow through with my daughter every day. Playgrounds became our place to practice what we learned in therapy. My daughter needed to learn to walk on surfaces with different grades; parks were a great place to play and practice that. She needed help with motor-planning; climbing was great for that!
In my experience, it was most difficult to obtain speech services; there are many kids with this need and we did need to wait for services with my older daughter. Each of the therapists that have worked with my daughters knew some level of sign, and it was great for my daughters to be able to communicate, when they couldn't always express their wants or needs.
The co-payment that families pay is nominal, when considering the amount of therapy your child is receiving.
Signing with my girls was one of the best things I've ever done as a parent. I don't know how to sign, but learned the signs that would help my daughters communicate. I'd spent a lot of time with my sister's daughters, and observed that they communicated what they wanted and needed before they could speak. I was accustom to signing with my nieces, so it was a very easy transition to sign with my daughter, when she came home from China. Hannah's first word was "more", as in "more cheerios". Hannah had speech delays, but I found that shortly after she learned the concept of a new word and signed the word, she began to say that word within a few weeks. Signing still helped her communicate her needs, though. Sign does not delay expressive language, and it allows our kids to let us know when they want to eat, drink, want more, need help, are all done, need to go potty, and are sleepy. Surely, our young ones can't use words to communicate this, but can you imagine how much calmer your child will be when s/he can communicate these needs???
Grace picked up sign quickly, too. For about three days in China, she had no idea what I was doing with my hands. When she knew that she could sign "eat" and receive food, she was totally on board. The problem was, she'd see a sign once, and recall it, and I was still learning the darned thing! Grace kept me on my toes. Grace, at 32 months, was prepared for signs that Hannah didn't need when she came home, at 12 months. Grace was quickly signing nouns and verbs, indicating what she wanted, and what she wanted to do.
I stuck with ASL, as both my girls received early intervention services from the state, and were enrolled in early childhood programs through our school district. I'd observed that our therapists were prepared to sign with the girls, so learning signs that everyone could use was important.
Even after the girls could verbally express the word, they would occasionally sign. Hannah would sign when she was excited, and Grace would sign when she was distraught, or crying during holding time.
Also, I must say, even when my girls were way past the need to sign, it was lovely to have a few signs to direct them from a distance, if needed, such as "yes", "no","sit down", "quiet", "all done". I suppose we all get those ideas across when we need to, but I KNEW my girls knew the signs and would understand me.
I am also a teacher and love learning from my students, who are from all over the world. I worked as a special education teacher for nine years, and have worked as an ESL teacher for the past twenty-two years. I also tutor, and my favorite thing to do as a teacher is to teach children to read--especially those that struggle. While I understand the many strategies we use to help children learn to be literate, it still is absolute magic to me when it happens!
We're always seeking new understanding of how children learn, and I'm excited to learn new strategies for helping my students succeed at school. I've been learning a lot about early numeracy, and am so excited to be able to help my students in this area. Often people assume that math is easy for second language learners, but there is a massive amount of language in the way that we teach math, these days, especially when we ask students to write extended responses, explaining the steps they took to solve the problem.
Subtractive Bilingualism is a topic that interests me, greatly. So many of our children have been affected by the loss of their first language. I wrote a month long series on language issues and international adoption. Check it out here. .
I'm entering my third year as a Super Couponer. In the past, I read about women who purchased massive amounts of groceries for a few dollars and had no idea how they did it! When I started reading about the families in the US that are challenging themselves to a $1200 budget a year for groceries, household, and personal hygiene items, I thought they ate cardboard and didn't use deodorant. Now I know they have spent time learning how to shop only when items are at their lowest price, and use manufacturer and store coupons, and take advantage of promotions with catalinas. Until I became a Super Couponer, I thought "catalina" was a type of salad dressing. No more! I know that the families that have taken on this challenge are disciplined, and determined to save in an area of their life that they can learn to be more economical. I hadn't shopped at Jewel or Dominick's for several years, but I am back, when they have their special promotions! I've always hated shopping, for anything, except books. I still have a lot to learn! I do well with promotions, but there are many Coupon Queens who do better, so I continue to learn from them. Our outrageous out of pocket medical bills brought me to this, but I have to say that once I knew it was possible to shop in this way, for me, it wouldn't be possible to return to shopping as I did, prior to learning from the Coupon Queens. The money saved each month is applied to medical debt. Wish it could be applied to something else, but this is one strategy that will allow me to decrease debt, one month at a time...
The Red Thread Promises is a non-profit organization that provides medical care for orphans. They team with organizations like Love Without Boundaries, Orphan Outreach, and Angel Covers, to provide for the children that remain in orphanages. This is a non-profit organization I've volunteered with, and hope you'll stop by and check out their work! They've done incredible things for those in need, in Haiti.