Boris Gindis, Ph.D. 
Article Title
What should adoptive parents know about their children’s language-based school difficulties? Part 5. 
Posted Date

Remediation of language-based problem at school and at home

A combination of various causes may lead to what is called educational handicapping conditions. They are described in our school system as 13 educational classifications and listed in the federal law, IDEA. Usually language-based educational handicapping conditions are designated either as Learning Disability or Language Impairment. The school-based remediation includes four steps:

  • Full psycho-educational assessment of current educational needs.
  • Appropriate educational classification and IEP to receive special education supportive and remedial services.
  • Systematic monitoring and adjusting of IEP based on the ongoing re-evaluations of the child’s performance.
  • Specialized educational environment and remedial programs such as the Lindamood-Bell system or the Wilson Reading program.
Here are the questions that a competent psycho-educational evaluation should answer:
  • What are the child’s educational needs?
  • Does the child qualify for educational classification?
  • What is the most appropriate educational placement for the child?
  • What supportive and remedial help does the child need?
  • What are the goals of remediation?
  • What are the methods of remediation?
  • How should progress be measured?
The cluster of social and neurological causes is very likely the root of children’s learning problems. However, you have to be careful in presenting this to your school. Learning disability, as formulated under Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act (reauthorized in 2004), explicitly states that it does not include learning problems resulting from “environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” When you make your request for a psycho-educational evaluation of your child in order to obtain remedial services, the school personnel will try to determine if:
  • There is a bilingual issue here – and you have to firmly rule it out: the vast majority of children adopted more than a year ago are monolingual. A child adopted as a toddler by the time she enters kindergarten is a monolingual child
  • There are cultural differences and socio-economic disadvantages that may explain the learning difficulties. You have to firmly rule this out as well: most of her life your daughter has been living in a middle class family within the mainstream culture

Thus, for all practical purposes, when dealing with language-based academic problems in IA children adopted before the age of 3, it is better to subscribe to the famous "duck theory": "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck". It would be only reasonable to treat a child adopted at an early age and exhibiting learning problems as you would treat a typical child born into an American family who is experiencing difficulty with reading and writing. The parents should request an evaluation of educational needs and obtain a proper school placement with supportive and remedial services (such as language therapy). In some cases specialized remediation and tutoring (such as the Lindamood-Bell system or Wilson Reading program) may be needed. But the bottom line is that if the child is adopted before the age of 3, my advice is to treat her learning problems as one would any other child in your neighborhood, with one substantial difference: each and every remedial program in school must include goals related to the remediation of cognitive language. According to existing research, clinical experience, and many adoptive parents’ surveys, IA children as a group are more at risk for cognitive language mastery failure than their peers. Regardless of the remedial methodologies used in school, language must be a specific goal of home-based remediation.

The best intervention is prevention

Adoptive parents have to foster intense cognitive language development in their children right after the adoption, no matter how young their child is. Conscious, focused, and substantial efforts by the parents are needed to develop this aspect of language in an IA child. Although there are a lot of remedial methodologies for pre-school and elementary school-age children, none before was developed specifically for IA children. Now, we have one called SmartStart. This methodology was created by two educational psychologists, Dr. Carol Lidz and me. The program utilizes typical family activities, but bears in mind the specificity of international adoptees and points to basic cognitive concepts and skills which may not have been formed in the child’s earlier development. The program intends to systematically stimulate cognitive language development in children ages 3 to 8. At the same time, SmartStart promotes attachment through shared enjoyable family activities. At the heart of SmartStart lies the idea of making traditional family interactions cognitively and linguistically remedial for a child. These activities are not randomly picked; they are selected to reflect what is currently known about best practices in promoting cognitive, social, and language development of young children. The SmartStart methodology stresses the utmost importance of adult mediation, lacking in the early stages of the child’s learning. The program consists of 8 units. The first is an explanation of the principles and the other seven are specific sets of activities. The handouts give you an overview of the content of this program. A unique and prominent feature of each unit is a vocabulary section: which words to introduce and how to explain an activity to the child in order to make it more remedially meaningful. The SmartStart program presents a large set of activities and provides the language that mediates these activities. As educators and adoptive parents, we have learned that love and good nutrition are not enough to accelerate cognitive and language development and promote thinking, learning, and literacy in children who had been victims of deprivation, neglect, and institutionalization. The SmartStart program, available as an online class and as a CD presents an example of what can be done at home for language and cognitive remediation of internationally adopted children.

Dr. Boris Gindis is a child psychologist specializing in psycho-educational issues of older internationally adopted children. He is the chief psychologist at the Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation, a lead instructor at Bgcenter Online School, the author of many publications on international adoption issues and frequent presenter at conferences and workshops. The issues, discussed in this article are covered in greater detail in Dr. Gindis’ online class School Issues of Internationally Adopted Children: Language, Behavior, and Academic Functioning at 
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