As a general practice in the adoptive process, parents are offered a video tape with the presentation of their perspective adoptive child. Depending on the age of the child you should be looking for different indicators of the child's developmental level and behavior on the tape, and it is universally important for you to have some understanding of child's behavior in general. The world of childhood is quite different from our adult world. It is not simply a smaller version of it. It is a different world, and you have to learn to understand it. You have to learn to "read" child's behavior. Every parent needs these skills, but parents adopting internationally may need them more then others, since you will not have the advantage of understanding your child's native language.
Where should I start?
Go to a playground in your neighborhood. Sit on a bench. Look how children play. Take your time observing them. What are they doing at any moment? The answer is - playing. Try to interpret it. Try to "read" each intention - action - outcome chain of the events. For the trained eye the world of child's play is an endless story of ongoing desires, courage, disappointment, and passion. Silently observe and listen to children, gaining a child's perspective. Play is child's most natural activity, which encourages cognitive or thinking skills, social-emotional development; communication and language abilities, and motor development. In other words, it is a universal and most natural way for a child to understand and learn the ways of the world. When you are looking at a tape or observe play activities or other interactions during your initial visit to the orphanage look for nonverbal communication of the child with adults or peers (eye contact, gestures, posture, facial expression, smiling, laughter, position of hands, hand movements) as well. And do not forget to take cultural and situational deviations into account. For example: Once I was asked to view a tape of a 9 month old girl from an orphanage. The expressed concern was "why is she staring? The girl had a fixed gaze, looking straight into the camera. She moved her head once when was called by her caretaker in the background. The girl never saw a camera, a very bright light, and probably a male too. During the taping she became a center of activity she had never experienced before. Therefore her fascination with what was happening around, her staring at the camera was quite appropriate. You need to observe the child in relation to the situation and to the child's age level. This will allow you to see and gain reliable information about what the child is actually doing and, perhaps, how she is thinking.
How the child's play behavior can help you glimpse into your child's mind
Play requires the child to direct activity and make choices, encourages discrimination of relevant and irrelevant information, reinforces problem solving skills. The development of memory, classification, spatial understanding, and abstract thinking are stimulated in play. In addition, play encourages the development of social understanding and interaction, as well as understanding of the inner processes, desires, anxieties. It enables the child to practice different social roles. In play, the child also masters the phonologic, syntactic, and semantic rules of language and uses language in increasingly sophisticated and socially appropriate way. Here is a reference table on how to interpret what you may witness during observation, and where on the developmental scale you may find it.
Categories and developmental levels of play [Adapted from R. Hanna (1979)]
LEVEL 1 - EXPLORATORY PLAY: Age range up to 9 months
Explores own body, body of significant other and incidental objects Mouthing, manipulation, visual inspection Pleasure of motor activity dominates Changes activities quickly
LEVEL 2 - FUNCTIONAL PLAY: Age range 9 - 15 months
Beginning to understand object characteristics and use Conventional use of objects Activity restrained and localized on fewer objects Activity may be applied to several objects, duration of play is longer Locates part responsible for operation Attempts variety of motor schemes Hands toy to adult for activation
LEVEL 3 - REPRESENTATIONAL PLAY: Age range 15 - 19 months
Semi-symbolic, self pretending Activities Involve child's own body Actions are more precise and differentiated Activities appear in longer sequences, conform to everyday life Spatial - stacking: begins to relate objects meaningfully
LEVEL 4 A - SYMBOLIC PLAY: Age range 18 - 24 months
Includes other actors or receivers of actions such as doll or mother Make believe games Dominant interest in animated toys Internalized action schemes - reference to absent objects, people Simple sequences
LEVEL 4 B - SYMBOLIC PLAY: Age range 24 - 36 months
Absent objects are introduced One object substitutes for another Mimics activities of others, plays house Simple self-sequencing of events Duration of activity increases Objects lose importance, meaning takes precedent Depicting gesturing Begins to represent less frequent events Still requires realistic props Roles shift quickly, events are short and isolated Parallel play predominates Spatial - complex, even elaborate
LEVEL 4 C - SYMBOLIC: Age range - 36-48 months
Child relates several schemes in a sequence Sequence evolves, it is not planned but is still dependent on props Associative play: child can reenact a previous event and change outcome Child uses miniature toys Doll is given a personality and participates as imaginary playmate Spatial - builds structures with blocks
LEVEL 5 - DRAMATIC PLAY: Age range 3 to 5 years
Child takes on a role and acts out through play what he understands about physical and social realm Acknowledges concept of pretending and can transcend own identity In taking on a role child uses pantomime Doesn't require realistic props, but may require facilitation by adult
LEVEL 6 - SOCIO-DRAMATIC PLAY: Age range - 5 years
Child takes on a role and plays out a theme which is elaborated with at least one other player Players enact story, communicating within their roles Story contains a plot climax and resolution Verbal interchange is a criteria in socio-dramatic play Child can play role and plan others at the same time Full cooperative play Not dependent on realistic props Sophisticated, creative use of props
LEVEL 7 - GAMES WITH RULES: Age range - 6 years
Ability to articulate rules of game Usage of more sophisticated language required Plays according to rules of fair play Plays easy table games, checkers. Old Maid. Candy Land. Able to have a winner
Try to analyze in which category the child primarily engages and whether or not it roughly matches his/her age.
Natalia Likhtik is a New York State Licensed Bilingual (Russian/English), ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist with the extensive experience in servicing internationally adopting community - children of all ages, coming from the former Soviet Republics. Natalia Likhtik is an active member of the Bilingual Extension program at the Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation and the instructor at the Bgcenter Online School.
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