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The "Zones of Regulation" as a remedial program for internationally adopted children with complex childhood trauma


Boris Gindis, Ph.D.

Posted Date



For internationally adopted children, development has been mediated by complex childhood trauma. Many, if not all of them, demonstrate, in different degrees, the signs of what was defined as Developmental Trauma Disorder (Van der Kolk, B.A. 2005. "Developmental Trauma Disorder," Psychiatric Annals, 401-408): emotional reactivity, inability to temper emotional responses, behavior impulsivity and the like. Children with difficulties interpreting emotions, paired with impulsivity, may be at risk for aggressive behavior (W. D'Andrea, J. Ford, J. Spinazzola and B. van der Kolk, 2012, "Understanding Interpersonal Trauma in Children: Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 82, No. 2, 187-200). Mixed maturity is at the base of many internationally adopted children's psychological profiles, together with sensory integration issues, underdeveloped language as a regulatory mechanism, delayed social cognition, limitation in executive functions (B. Gindis, 2005, "Cognitive, Language, and Educational Issues of Children Adopted from Overseas Orphanages," Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, Vol.4, No 3, 291-315). All these attributes require direct therapeutic interventions with appropriate methodology.

Within the last 10-12 years, a number of training programs aiming to remediate children with difficulties with self-regulation were created. These programs, being basically cognitive/behavioral techniques, are designed for children of different ages and different medical conditions. To the best of my knowledge, none of these programs address the trauma issues. Among those programs, the well known are the Alert Program (, which focuses on sensory integration as a major means of regulating alertness; the Incredible 5-Point Scale program (, created initially for autistic children, but now widely used for children with ADHD and behavior and emotional issues; and the multitude of the Behavior Management Programs (

The most recent addition to this host of existing programs for developing self-regulation in children is The Zones of Regulation. As of now, it exists in a book format called "The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control." The author is Leah Kuypers, an occupational therapist by training, who is a specialist in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) field. The program, released in 2011, became rather popular among school personnel and private therapists and counselors. There is a good reason for this: The Zones of Regulation methodology is sequentially organized, logically structured, multisensory in nature, and very practical. The multisensory approach is at the base of the curriculum (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, role-play and imagery) and is used to develop emotional control, sensory regulation, and executive functions in preschoolers through middle-school students with social and behavioral difficulties. The program is clearly school-oriented: the author prefers to call her program a "curriculum" and her therapy/instructional sessions are named "lessons."

The theoretical foundation is rather diverse, rooted in the fields of psychology, education, occupational therapy and speech pathology with a particular focus on Theory of Mind (understanding other people's beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives, see: and Social Thinking concepts: perspective-taking and understanding how behavior impacts other people, (see However, basically, The Zones of Regulation is a practice, based on evidence obtained during hands-on work in the fields of autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders (ADD/HD), and with children having social-emotional management problems. By all means, The Zones of Regulation system belongs to the category of "best practices"; that attracts the attention of clinicians, educators and parents.

My encounter with The Zones of Regulation happened about three years ago during the search for methods to facilitate self-regulation in traumatized children - the majority of internationally adopted, post-institutionalized kids. I was particularly attracted to The Zones of Regulation because students would gain an increased vocabulary in the understanding and communication of emotional states; skills in "reading" facial expressions; perspective on how others see and react to their behavior; insight on what triggers their maladaptive behavior; calming and alerting strategies; problem-solving skills and much more. I also was attracted by its multisensory methods of presentation and the interactive nature of many activities. The obvious advantage was in the incorporation of Social Thinking concepts in teaching students to identify their feelings, understand how their behavior impacts those around them, and learn what methods they can use to manage their feelings and behavior. By addressing underlying deficits in emotional and sensory regulation, executive functions, and social cognition, the curriculum is helpful with advancing students towards independent regulation. In short, The Zones of Regulation appeared to me as a sensible, hands-on, well-structured and detailed approach that deserved trying its application with a particular group of traumatized children: international adoptees.

The Zones of Regulation curriculum classifies feelings and states of arousal into four easily identifiable distinct color-coded Zones. As presented in the book, the Red Zone is used to describe extremely heightened states of alertness and intense emotions. A person may be elated or experience anger, rage, explosive behavior, devastation, or terror when in the Red Zone. The Yellow Zone is used to describe a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions while control is still possible: when a person experiences stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, or nervousness but is still able, to some degree, to self-regulate his or her behavior. The Green Zone is used to describe a calm state of alertness: a person may be described as happy, focused, content, or ready to learn: actually, this is the zone where optimal learning occurs. The Blue Zone is used to describe low states of alertness and down feelings, such as when one feels sad, tired, sick, or bored.

The Zones can be compared to traffic signs. When given a green light, one is "good to go." A yellow sign means be aware or take caution. A red light or stop sign means stop. The blue zone can be compared to the rest area signs where one goes to rest or reenergize. All of the zones are expected at one time or another and the curriculum focuses on teaching students how to manage their zone of emotional state. As explained in the book (page 9), the Zones of Regulation method is intended to be neutral, without projecting judgment when helping students recognize their feelings and levels of alertness.

The program consists of 18 sessions (lessons) and, even if the therapists "cut and paste" some sessions, it still may take from two to five months to graduate from it. Each lesson consists of:

  • Overview - a concise description of the lesson.
  • Goals for the activities.
  • Preparation of materials needed for the session. As I mentioned above, this is a multisensory curriculum, and this includes many visual colored posters, drawing, tracking drawings with fingers, using some OT tools, such as "fidget ball," etc. A significant number of colored and black-and-white reproducible posters are ready to be printed out using an external USB drive, which is located inside of the book cover.
  • Note to teacher/therapist - further detailed explanation on material preparation or some procedural specifics.
  • Lead-in for all ages - how to start the session, how to introduce the major concepts and/or activities, often with a detailed script of what to say and how to run the activity.
  • Activities for the different age groups.
  • Wrap-up for all ages - how to conclude the session.
  • Ways to generalize learning - a discussion of what to do to further enhance the learned skills and knowledge in school, home and community.
  • Ways to adapt the lesson to different individual and developmental differences.

Additional learning activities.

In lesson 1 the concepts of Zones are introduced via different colored posters and explanations geared to the child's age and intellectual level. In lesson 2 the students work on their "emotional vocabulary" and learn how to recognize different emotions through facial expression and body language. In lesson 3 the students work with videos trying to identify emotion and place these emotions into Zones. In lesson 4 the students are taught to recognize when they are entering into any zone themselves. It is learned through role-playing according to different scenarios presented in the book.

In lesson 5 the students learn how others may view their behavior. Normally, we as social beings are motivated to behave according to what we think will keep other people thinking positively about us. Those with impaired self-regulation are often unable to consider others' perspectives and subsequently are not motivated by social expectations to self-regulate. This lesson directly uses the concepts of "Theory of Mind" and "Social Behavior Mappings." In lesson 6 the students are taught to "read" physiological signs of being in different zones of self-regulation - the most sophisticated part of the whole program. In lesson 7 the students learn to do matching of certain emotions to hypothetical scenarios that are read from interactive books; they continue expanding the vocabulary to explain emotional states (e.g., using idioms and vernacular describing emotions: "cool as a cucumber," "lost my cool," etc.

In lesson 8 the students have to chart zones in relation to different events during the day. It is a rather sophisticated activity, requiring a certain degree of reflection and analysis. In lesson 9 the students examine external "triggers" that may move a child to a yellow or red zone. The students are expected to participate in a discussion of some hypothetical situations. Again, a rather high level of cognitive ability is needed for this activity. The author of the program believes in the existence of an external cause for losing control. However, a child with complex trauma may at times experience deep-rooted tension and frustration that have internal neurological roots. It should be understood, that for some children the external triggers do exist, but for some it is a trauma-produced inner tension that leads to losing control. In conclusion to this part of the program the author added a section called: "Ways to Check for Learning," a smart didactical way to include behavior observations, visual-based assignments (like preparing wall posters) and independent work.

The next section of the program is devoted to teaching regulating techniques, mostly, of course, the ways to calm down. There are three types of psychological "tools" offered by the program: sensory support, calming techniques, and thinking strategies. The key point is to teach a child certain techniques when he or she is calm and open to learning states of mind and emotions (in other words, in the Green Zone). Practicing the new skills should be consistent and repeated in different settings until these skills are fully internalized by the child and will be automatically applied when the child is in the Yellow Zone.

In lesson 10 the author puts on her OT hat and discusses moving the students between "stations," where they are trying different "sensory tools" (used mostly by occupational therapists) to experience sensory support intended to heighten their alertness or calm them down. The tools include such well-known things as a fidget ball, weighted west or blanket, wall push-ups, deep pressure squishes (e.g., a bean bag), etc. During these activities, the students will try to determine which tools work better for them; the result is presented in a Zones Tool Worksheet.

In lesson 11 the students explore and practice such calming techniques as taking deep breaths (six sides of breathing, "Lazy 8 Breathing," belly breathing), counting to ten, and calming sequences. In lesson 12 exploration moves to different thinking strategies that may affect advancement from Yellow Zone to Green Zone. The concepts of "Size of the Problem," Inner Coach vs. Inner Critic, and Flexible vs. Rigid thinking are introduced. In lesson 13 the students work to assemble their own (individual for each student) Toolbox. The lesson contains Zones Tool Menu that includes 24 different tools to choose from, and a student is to decide what tool is to be used in which zone. In lesson 14 role-playing activities aimed at understanding which tool is to be used in a number of hypothetical situations are described. These are rather interesting, engaging and funny activities, but the issue of proper understanding of these situations by the students may arise.

In lesson 15 the students continue working on the goals set forth in the previous lesson and concentrate on problems with impulsivity: when to stop and think before acting. In lesson 16, which is called "Tracking my Tools" and is one of the most demanding in the whole program, the students need to select a proper tool to help themselves to self-regulate, but also chart the frequency of use of this tool and the usefulness of its application. In lesson 17 the final concept of the program, called "STOP, OPT and GO," is introduced through group games. It provides the students with an easy-to-remember phrase and visual clue to slow down and think before acting on impulse. In lesson 18 there is a celebration of the achievement: the final sequence of informal tests takes place to see how well the skills have been mastered and a Zones License is awarded.

In conclusion, The Zones of Regulation program provides students with psychological "tools" (sensory supports, calming techniques, and thinking strategies) to regulate their behavior. However, let us be realistic: neither a teacher nor a parent would be the right person to deliver this program. It must be a professional: a school psychologist, occupational therapist, speech/language therapist, school counselor, or private psychotherapist or counselor. The service provider must invest time and energy to learn and practice the program. For a private therapist, particularly one practicing cognitive/behavioral therapy, this is the ideal program for developing self-regulation in children suffering from the consequences of trauma, highly functional autism, or severe ADHD. There is always the danger that some students would be bored and irritated by worksheets and stories and it is up to the skillful therapist or counselor to make the curriculum playful and engaging.

Furthermore, the program is designed for use in a group format. The author claims that the program could be adapted for individual sessions as well, but it will require substantial modification.

The author of the program stated that The Zones of Regulation methodology is suitable (with some age-related adaptations) to a rather wide range of students: from the preschool population to middle school and even high school students. In my view, the targeted population should be limited to elementary school population: ages 6 to 12. Exceptions are possible, of course: advanced preschoolers (ages 5 to 6) and children with cognitive limitations beyond age 12 could be included in this group. I think this is a very good program for children with high-functioning autism and ADHD (as a therapeutic supplement to medical treatment). I believe that children with complex childhood trauma, ages 6 to 12, will benefit from this program as well.

I started looking at this methodology with the goal of adapting it for the parents of internationally adopted children at home. Knowing my clients as mostly hardworking parents living in a survival mode with difficult children to bring up, I believe that a serious adaptation and simplification of the program is needed to make it useful for the home environment. But I see another option: the adoptive parents may request their counselor or therapist (either private or school-based) to implement the program with their child with the parents being in charge of "follow-up" (or "generalization") at home. This "follow-up" may have crucial significance in the generalization of students' learned skills outside of a therapy office and their conversion into the use of automated responses to external challenges.

The creation of "Parental Follow-Up to Zones of Regulation" is a challenge that is worth taking on. The whole concept of "zones of self-regulation," many ideas and activities could be taken from the original program fully "intact," some activities are to be modified (from mild to significant degrees), and some activities are to be omitted as not applicable in the home environment. Home-based "follow-up" would strongly, if not a decisively, support a therapist's or school counselor's efforts to instill the basis of self-regulation in internationally adopted, post-institutionalized 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, the lead instructor at BGCenter Online School, the author of many publications on international adoption issues and frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

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Preparing For The Adopted Child's Future


Jeltje Simons

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Does the thought 'How will he ever manage in life?' sometimes cross your mind? Maybe the thought 'Will I have to manage those behaviors in the coming 10 years?' also make you worry. When the children are young and cute and you're three times bigger, you may not worry about their future too much, but it is better not to sit back and wait in the hope the children mature and gain skills, necessary to live independently, hold on to a job and have healthy relationships with other people. Most adopted children cannot afford the wait and see approach, there needs to be some sort of plan, and waiting until they are 15 before starting to think about their future is a bit late for most. You should give it some thought simply because you need to develop their strengths and interests, and this takes a lot of 'preliminary steps,' so it is better to start as early as possible.

My child feels generally pretty useless; he does not believe he can do a lot, and he's not totally wrong here, as for him to learn anything, he needs to invest more efforts than 'Jane Average'. He makes comments like 'I do not like myself', 'My birth mother has thrown me away', 'Nobody likes me', etc. Low self-esteem, - and that is understandable and also very sad. He is like many other adopted children. That's why it is so important to find activities where they can flourish, feel good about what they do.

My son presents quite able: most people on the outside world see him as capable and cute and have no understanding of the difficulties he faces. They think he can move on to higher education because he plays violin so well, but in reality this is not possible simply because he lacks the intellect, the motivation and perseverance.

Only yesterday he puts himself down saying he has been practicing violin for months and still makes mistakes. 'Of course,' I told him, we started practicing this concert 5 weeks ago and now he can already play the three parts from memory, and that's amazing. It needs to be played from memory as he will play in a festival later this year. Of course he still makes some mistakes, but it is a huge accomplishment, even for a child without his learning difficulties. He then continues about his birth mother, as if he feels that his discontent has nothing to do with his violin. What can you answer when a child says 'My birth mother has thrown me away'? I try to minimize the meaning of these words, tell him it's not really like that, tell him that his birth mother did not see any other choices etc, etc. But the reality is that he lives with me and not with her. She left him in the hospital.

'She did not want me' is the next thing he says. I tell him I think that his birth mother had a lot of problems and could not care for him. No matter what anyone is going to say, it will not make him feel better about himself instantly. He is too young emotionally to understand the circumstances around his abandonment, he comes quickly to very wrong conclusions with the little information he has.

So how can we make our children feel better about themselves? Praise in itself can be good if you really mean it from the heart, but it can make children also dependent, wanting the adult's opinion to know if they have done something right all the time. They work for the praise but not the satisfaction from the activity. Insecure children come every two minutes asking if you like the five new lines they put on paper. Too much praise also loses its impact; praising the skills the child was already able to demonstrate three month ago desensitizes the child and undermines the parent's trustworthiness.

As every parent, I want my son to feel good about himself and about what he does. In the hope, of course, that if they feel good about what they do, they will feel better about themselves as well. So when can children feel good about their participation in activities? At the moment they start doing it with confidence and it goes well. At this moment they receive praise (this can be at any level, as long as the children try to their best ability) and can feel the parents are proud.

For children to feel good about themselves, we also need to try to build up a close relationship with them. You need to spend time together, a lot of time. But what to do when the child is not thrilled to have you around, how can this work then? This can be achieved by spending blocks of time with the child and then taking emotional distance in between.

Maybe your child will not leave you alone for 15 minutes despite you telling her that you just need to read a chapter in your book and when you finish then you'll be doing something together again. In that case you might want to teach the child to have a moment of rest in their bedroom, a special corner in the lounge or drawing at a kitchen table. The idea is to work with the child (this can be anything from giving attention to helping to read), then have a mini-break, then start again. The attention span of most children needs to be trained to become developed, so starting with short sessions and building it up is an good idea. Also some physical motion between moments of concentration is good. When do parents get a break if you work intensely with your child? Well, school is the moment of the parent's respite, as well as the time after the child is in bed.

Even if your child is 8 at adoption, they still need closeness of a five year old. You don't give the freedom to cycle around the neighborhood the whole afternoon or allow to play with friends every day to a five year old. Think about them as being younger, treat them as they are younger - in their choices and freedom, and in your expectations.

When you are in the middle of activities with your child or give them attention, please do not allow to be interrupted by a phone, just switch the thing off - this is time for your child. I see young children everywhere with parents who appear attached to their mobile, more so than to their child, one might wonder. Those same kids get their parent's mobile when they start whining. Some of those toddlers know exactly how this mobile operates. This is not a good parenting and there is no need to be available for the outside world all the time. Adopted children need real contact, they do not need computer games or electronic toys in place of parents who are distracted by mobiles 10 times a day. They need you, and you need to find ways to make this possible.

If you struggle to keep the interactions positive, investigate why the child can make you so angry or upset and find ways to prevent it. Sounds simple, but removing yourself from the situation even for a short period is often helpful: foreseeing how the child may react and preventing it, emotionally stepping back, simply counting till 10, making a conscious decision not to shout at the child, etc., all these can help.

As it can be intense to have a needy child around many hours a day, I do not recommend to make co- sleeping a habit. You need time away from the child, physically and mentally. If you spend good quality time during the day with the child, you need time to recharge, and an undisturbed sleep is necessary for you.

Sending a child to after school clubs, letting them play daily with friends at other people's houses, giving them the same freedom as you would give the same age birth child, is often not an good idea. I understand very well that most people work long hours and use baby sitters and after school groups to cover those hours. This is not ideal for the adopted child, even if they appear independent and do not mind the arrangements. The first couple of years the interactions with friends do not have to be daily, the interaction with the parent is more important.

Coming back to giving the child the 'feel good' feeling. For most children it means achieving something.
What can be your child's hobby? Well that's, for most part, is up to you. Ask the child a few months after they are home, and they may say yes to any suggestion or its opposite. Best to start something and see how it goes. Let's say it's difficult: your child is very scared in the swimming pool, like my child was. It does not mean the activity is not suitable. It just means you might have to make sessions shorter and more frequent or facilitate in other ways: something challenging might be of a greater quality and give the child more satisfaction once the skill is mastered.

I chose violin just because my child had motor skill weakness, memory problems, concentration problems, and he had never seen a violin in his life. But he did sing reasonably in tune, and he enjoys music, and I thought it was a good link to his ethnicity beside the fact that I believe that classical music can be very therapeutic and healing. I practiced daily with him, first two times 5 minutes a day, slowly building this up. To be honest, he did not always like it, but that's understandable as it was challenging and he does not have inner motivation. We are four years further, he still plays violin daily, he is not delayed when it comes to violin playing. He quite enjoys it and feels confident about this skill, he plays in a youth orchestra. Even now when he's successful, he still wants to change the instrument a few times a year. This desire shifts from double base to rock guitar - this trend of wanting a change dominates his life: he finds something fantastic one day and 'hates' it the next.

That is the reason why we should decide what a good activity for your child is, and make them stick to it. The child does not have a reference point in judging the activities: they might know sports they have seen on TV, and that's as far as it goes. Most have never seen a cinema, concert hall, theatre or museum from the inside by the time they arrive home. It is also the parent who decides if something does not work out: the difficulty is to choose an activity that your child will be able to do physically, that is challenging but not unrealistic. And you need to like it yourself as well, as you need to motivate them to continue, and you have to pay for lessons and bring the child to the class; in some cases you might have to practice with the child or at least spend a lot of time looking at what the child is doing. Show genuine interest in what your child does. This activity needs to be structured and people who lead it must be sympathetic towards your child's needs. If a part of the practice can be done at home, even better.

Your goal should be to lead the child to become just a bit better than the best child in their class in school and insure that there are moments where they can shine by performing or showing their work to friends and family.

If a child is good in a skill, it is easy to think it's talent, but the reality is that, no matter how much talent your child may have, if you do not practice - you'll not become good. And if you have no talent but practice enough, you'll become pretty good. It does not really matter whether it is sport, arts and crafts, music. Anything what can be practiced often and where the child can be successful is the right for them activity.

As you can read in my previous article Finding an Extra-Curriculum Activity for an Adopted Child, my son started playing violin less than a year after his adoption, and from the moment I wrote the article about this hobby, things have not changed. He still practices every day, I still supervise this practice daily. And slowly but surely he's succeeding and most days he likes it. By now I've been sitting with him at 1250 practice hours but probably more. He also swims: last year he was not allowed in the swimming pool without floaters, now a year later he explains to me how to dive in without slamming your belly and how to breath under the arm while doing breast stroke. He is a better swimmer than I am for sure; he swam 18 meters under water while dressed (one of the things they need to practice to move up the class and get another diploma).

He was scared of water; two summers I swam (read - played in water) with him nearly every day, he learned to swim under my guidance. I enrolled him in a swimming class: initially two hours every week, then during the 6 weeks summer break three hours every week, after that back to two weekly hours
until he got three diplomas and became a confident swimmer. Now after this intensive period he swims one hour every week to gain certificates for more skills.

You see, the problem for most children, especially the slower children, is that when you do something like this one hour every week it takes ages, and it also takes ages before they achieve success. So I advise, whatever you do, set the child up to succeed with practice, with some extra lessons, with anything you can do to get over the 'beginner's threshold'. After that often the activity itself is satisfying.

My child likes swimming now because he's the best swimmer in his class. It really does not matter that he will never be an expert swimmer or even win a swimming contest; maybe in a few years he is no longer the best; what matters now is the success he enjoys, his hard work he gets praise for, every diploma he gains.

To live as independent as possible, children need to learn skills to manage their home, their work and their free time. And a lot of those skills can be easily learned in the family, starting with helping the mother - for preschool children, to having tasks to be responsible for - at primary age, to full independence training during puberty. The advantage of starting young is also that children get used to managing tasks, and it will be easier to get them to comply when they are 15 and you have decided your son needs to learn, for example, to cook.

I know there might be people saying 'But my child will not even make his own bed, how can I get him to vacuum the floor? He's moody and rude when I ask him'. My children sometimes object against tasks, mainly saying they did the same yesterday ('Yes, I cooked yesterday for you as well, how boring'), it's not their turn. I do not really plan their work to be done in turns, as it is so tiring to have endless discussions about who is suppose to do what. I just want them to comply if I ask them to do a task.

One strategy what works well is 'If you refuse, I refuse too'. 'I will start cooking dinner after you are done with your task.' Dinner was delayed by three hours once, and that was fine - it was their choice. I have not had huge opposition since.

Just find something you do for them what can be stopped: bringing them to a friend, cancelling a fun outing, anything will do as long as it makes sense. Be careful not to cancel the activity you've chosen for the child to do weekly with the idea that if they are successful in what they do it will boost their confidence. I never cancel music and swimming lessons, for example.

TV, computer games, anything electronic can be easily used to be 'earned' if the tasks are performed, or taken away by sloppy work. Your child might say 'I do not care, I hate watching TV/playing a game anyway'. Do not go into those discussions, go back to the original request: 'First you vacuum your bedroom then you are allowed to watch TV'. It is not your concern how much they 'do not care' about a consequence, just follow it through anyway.

Tasks my boys are involved in: cleaning their own bedroom, folding washed clothes and putting everything away, mopping the floor, removing muck after the ponies we have, mowing the grass, etc. My eldest cooks once a week (with help), which includes choosing the ingredients in the supermarket. On some days he is allowed to cycle independently to the shop, this is not always possible and depends on his mental state. I plan to start to train him to use public transportation when he's 17, as he'll never be able to get a driving license. He knows how and actually can operate the washing machine. Unfortunately I had to disallow this as it became an obsession for him, and washing was all he could think of and do: when all clothes were washed, dirty shoes, boots, rain jackets, plastic toys - it all would go into the washing machine.....

And then we look further thinking about a profession the child can get into later on. If they have been developing their strengths from a young age, maybe a profession that uses those strengths is possible. When children are young, they tell you they want to be a pilot, or a policeman, or an astronaut, you smile and tell them how fantastic this is. Then there comes a moment, maybe around 8 or 9, that you tell them that becoming an astronaut is very unlikely because..... . Then the pilot's profession 'falls off', because your vision isn't good enough, etc. But there is a huge grey area, when your child is a slow learner and so many professions are not suitable for them. Why? Simply because the child has not enough brain power. I try to avoid saying 'this is not possible', I try to get him to figure that out himself. Yesterday he wanted to be a vet, and I said: 'That's a good profession helping sick animals, but you have to be very good with math. When we talk a bit about it, he asks if he could help the animals in a shelter and pick them up with an ambulance. So now we are talking about much more realistic things, as with perseverance, motivation and determination it would not be totally farfetched.

As an example, a month ago he wanted to work on a cruise ship....... no idea where this came from; again he wanted to be a captain, and after we talked a bit, he liked cleaning the cabins as well, or playing the violin when people have dinner (this comes from a Mr. Bean movie, where he eats in an expensive restaurant and someone comes to the table to play a tune). He is 10 now, and I do not want to blow his 'bubble,' but I want to slowly change his unrealistic ideas to something ambitious but not totally impossible.

My child also has a bleeding disorder that makes certain professions impossible. 'No, you cannot be a football player - that's too dangerous'. Then he'll say: 'I cannot be anything', and I ask him if someone can play violin when they are deaf. I am trying to lead him to realization that everyone has restrictions in their possibilities. I point out at his strengths in search of possibilities.

If your teen shows a clear interest in a certain profession, it is good to look with your child at what this exactly entails. In this respect the Internet is fantastic as you can look up colleges, courses, etc. If you have ideas about possibilities for your child, share them and look into them as well. School will have ideas of course, but it is always good for the family to have a plan to share; for the child it is important to be somewhat realistic rather than live for 12 years with the idea he will become an astronaut when in fact he's three years behind in math and two in English.

I want to end with the advise for adoptive families to form realistic expectations about their children, be active in preparing the child's future and remember that it all starts at home. Teach them the skills they are able to acquire and will need later on. All practical skills to live independently can be learned in the family.

And even if your child will never live independently, then still it is important to make them as self-sufficient as possible and to find the best place where they can be cared for. Do not wait until they are 35: you still need to be hopefully healthy and fit when they move out. Then by that time they will have build up their own social network. If you made a mistake and their current place is not as nice as you expected, you are still strong to fight for a move and find something better. Do not expect school to do it alone, or therapy to solve all problems. You have to be involved and active as a parent and put in a lot of time and effort.

Nobody can predict the long term outcomes for children who have been through so much, but they survived and hopefully they will grow into people who can feel proud of what they achieved.


My name is Jeltje Simons and I am a single adoptive mother of 2 boys. Both of my children arrived a few weeks before their 6th birthday. Both children have significant special needs. Before my eldest's adoption I worked many years as a nurse in residential settings for children and adolescents with special needs in the Netherlands, Ireland and UK. But soon after my older son’s arrived it became clear that in order to meet his severe needs I could not continue working as a nurse - I needed to stay home.

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Article Title

English for Your Adopted Child: How to Make Learning Faster and More Fun


Anabela Barros

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Adopting a child from a foreign country is an inspiring time for your family, but no matter what age the child you welcome into your home is, you're likely going to be faced with the challenge of teaching them English. Don't fret, though, there are many creative and fun ways to accomplish this awesome goal:

  1. Use Food as a Learning Tool
    Although it may sound funny, you can use food as an effective learning tool with your young adopted child. For example, rather than simply placing a side of fries on their plate, spell "E", "F" and "I" with the sliced and diced potatoes instead. Say the letters, and get excited about it. You'll probably find that your child starts doing the same. Use ketchup to write "Hi", or spell out your child's name. In no time, they'll be bursting with enthusiasm for learning and dinner.
  2. Turn Music into Tutor
    Background music is absorbed by the brain, even if it isn't fully understood. Play intelligible music constantly, and choose songs that feature simple, repeated phrases. For example, old Beatles songs have easy to understand words and often repeated choruses. As a bonus, this process will also help your child develop a love of music.
  3. Let People You Meet Help
    Whenever you go out, say to a restaurant or farmer's market, introduce your child to staff and specifically mention the ongoing challenge of learning English. Nearly everyone you encounter will happily assist by speaking clearly and trying to engage your child in the spoken word.
  4. Try American Board Games
    Many favorite board games have words like "stop", "go", "finish" and more to help your child navigate simple phrases. The fact that the family gathers around the board will add fun and incentive to the learning process as well.
  5. Read, Read, Read!
    No matter what age or skill level your child is at, they will most certainly benefit from hearing you read. Read newspapers, books, gossip magazines, Internet articles, bills, letters -- anything you have your hands on. Of course, sitting down to read magical stories will also be of great assistance to your child learning the language, but reading out loud, whatever you happen to be doing, will also help and save you valuable time.
  6. Have Family Spelling Bees
    Making a big deal out of spelling means generating enthusiasm for learning, so have everyone in the family participate in spelling bees. Ask them to stand in front of everyone else and be formal, by having them repeat the words before and after spelling them. If your adopted child is shy and doesn't want to participate right away, that's okay. Simply let them sit in the background and observe. Even as an observer, your adopted child will be learning, growing and developing the brain.
  7. Give Your Child Flashcards
    Cards with a word on one side and picture on the other are invaluable tools for learning basic word. They're also quite beneficial because your child can use them independently, after you've demonstrated their proper function.
  8. Write Cards, Letters and Poems Together
    Rather than buying cards for holidays, birthdays and other special occasions, work together with your child to make them. Phrases, words and sentiments will be viewed in action, helping the learning process along. A bonus is that all your friends and relatives will enjoy the special treat of handmade greeting cards.
  9. Play Educational Video Games
    Because kids love video games so much, having to learn certain words in order to play is a great incentive for learning. Of course, you want to carefully screen games for appropriateness, but if you keep the focus on education, you should not encounter issues.
  10. Immerse Your Child in the American Culture
    Going to movies, plays, museums and even the library will expose your child to both the language and culture, even if they hardly know any English yet. Expressions like joy, sorrow and laughter are universal, so your child will always have something to relate to in the context of the encounters. Because it's fun, they'll want to learn faster, in order to be able to participate and to truly understand the experiences that await.

Fortunately for you and your adopted child, English is one of the easier languages to learn; however, it doesn't usually make a lot of sense to foreigners. With all the rules, exceptions to the rules and odd structure, sometimes even forming simple sentences can take time. With due diligence, patience, fun, and creative parenting, your adopted child will pick up the language in no time at all - and have a great time bonding with you too.


Anabela Barros is a professional who runs nacel London, a popular language immersion program offering students opportunities to live abroad and learn English as a second language. To learn more about these exciting programs, visit

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Article Title

Psychomotor Agitation with the Anti-Social Content in Internationally Adopted Children and Adolescents


Boris Gindis, Ph.D.

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Psychomotor Agitation (PMA) is a series of unintentional and purposeless motions that stem from mental excitation and anxiety of an individual.

A child afflicted with complex childhood trauma (having Developmental Trauma Disorder - DTD) has a distorted Central Nervous System (CNS) processing with major deficit in self-regulation of emotions and overt behavior. This child is easily frustrated and tends to accumulate tension related to this frustration. In certain situations, usually in familiar, structured, and monitored circumstances with an authority figure in sight and capable of managing the child's behavior, these children can for some time preserve control of their behavior. However, when tension is mounting, the ability to sustain the outburst diminishes, and the child releases tension through physical agitation that may take form of the a-social actions: physical or verbal aggression and damage of property/things. This psychomotor agitation is mostly unintentional and purposeless and stems from the traumatized child's anxiety. Inner tension is a feeling of nervousness, and an overwhelming mood discomfort. This drive makes purposeless actions practically unavoidable, almost compulsory for a child. For a by-standee it is impossible to empathise with or even understand the tension that is so extreme that it forces movement, but this is what happens.

By releasing tension through motor restlessness, the child experiences relief in spite of making his or her life miserable by often hurting other people and destroying property. They sometime laugh and smile in the midst of their destructive actions or when they are reprimanded or punished. This famous "orphanage smile" is reported by many parents and clinicians and is extremely frustrating for adults who live and work with traumatized children.

It's important for parents and school personnel to realize that this behaviour does not have purpose and does not have "triggers". It has inner dynamic dictated by the child's nervous system and is relatively free from the environmental influences. It may start "out of the blue", it may disappear for several hours to several days, and re-appear again without visible causes. That is why the traditional behaviour modification techniques and programs are often not successful with this type of conduct: nothing serves the purpose of "attracting attention" or "avoiding an assignment": it's just a tension release.

The question remains why this psychomotor agitation is released in such an anti-social manner; with physical aggression against peers, siblings and parents, with destruction of property, with violation of societal norms and school regulations? Young post-institutionalized children just do not know any other ways of releasing this tension, and one of the methods of preventing PMA anti-social nature is to teach them socially acceptable ways to discharge it.

Treating psychomotor agitation with anti-social content when it starts is hardly possible until the child is exhausted and the excitation of their CNS subsides (similar to tantrums that are a specific case of psychomotor agitation). However, it is possible to prevent PMA through relaxation techniques, attention redirection, and verbal interactions before the cycle starts.
What can be done in the school to address this issue?

Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP)

Traditional behavior modification strategies (a system of rewards and punishment) that rely on self-control, presume willfulness and require an age-appropriate level of maturity and responsibility are likely to be ineffective or even impossible in preventing or controlling PMA. On the other hand, the strategies that do not presume self-control and do not put undue weight on behavioral slip-ups, which are suited to the child's level of emotional maturity and decrease their level of stress, will be more effective.

Traditional behavior modification programming often used in the school system, may not be effective for children with developmental trauma disorder, because constant "evaluation" of a person with emotional trauma perpetually puts this person in defensive state or in the state of anxiety, which leaves them feeling unsafe and thus unable to learn and socialize in the age-appropriate manner. Based on my experience working with internationally adopted children, I advocate for a trauma-informed approach, which is different from traditional behavioral methods. Social connectedness instead of reward-punishment methodology should be applied to aim at creating an environment that is proactive in preventing escalation of the emotional distress.

In practical terms, this should be a system of classroom and school-wide accommodations, including special crisis prevention and de-escalation techniques. Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP) should include teaching of alternative positive behavior, such as means of calming down. When dealing with a traumatized child, the focus should be on connection, not control. When reprimanded, a traumatized child may become further frustrated and stressed, which will escalate defiant behavior. Instead, when feeling frustrated, the child should be allowed to talk about his/her feelings of frustration and injustice and the listener should be able to look at the situation from the child's perspective.

The Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP) should include at least three sections:

  • Implement proactive interventions - for example, using a "frustration card": the child will be taught to show a card that he/she can use to signal feelings of frustration. After showing the card, he/she will be removed from the frustrating situation. The child will use a "Finish Later" folder or box to be used when he/she is not done with an assignment or project on time. Still other means of proactive interventions could be used if these are not in violation of school rules and regulations.
  • Teach alternative and adaptive behavior - strategies for calming down, such as breathing, counting, walking/stretching, etc. A child should be trained in self-regulatory scripts such as: "big deal/little deal," "choice/no choice," "plan A/plan B." Visual reminders are provided so that ultimately the child will be able to become more flexible rather than getting stuck in negative thoughts, getting frustrated and having a meltdown.
  • Use reactive Interventions - for any situation in which a child may present danger to her/himself and others: e.g. distracting the child from the frustrating situation, using calming techniques, removing them from the place of an incident.

Implementing Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP) we should always have in mind that our goal is to develop self-regulation in the child in order to effectively address PMA. A substantial part of BIP should be the Zones of Regulation methodology. This technique was initially developed by the occupational therapist Leah Kuypers and now is wildly used by school counselors and therapists who work with children lacking self-regulation skills (also called "executive functions").

The Zones of Regulation methodology classifies states of arousal into four easily identified color-coded zones: the Red Zone, where emotions are so intense and overwhelming, that the person feels out of control; the Yellow Zone, where emotions are not as extreme and a person has some control; the Green Zone, a calm state where the person feels focused, alert, in control of the emotions; and the Blue Zone, a state of relaxation, reduced alertness (this state is counter-productive for learning).

The zones can be explained much as we would explain traffic signs. Red means stop. Yellow is a warning to slow down and be cautious. Blue is like a rest area off the freeway, a place where we can stop, take a break, and get re-energized. Green means we're good to go. Within the course of 15 to 18 sessions, children learn ways to identify their different states of arousal and capacity for emotional control. Children who previously struggled when asked to explain how they feel now have a vocabulary for doing so. Children also learn about different tools for moving from one zone to another, including tools for staying in the green zone, a zone we need to be in to function well in class.

The Zones curriculum also provides practice in other emotion self-regulation strategies as well, including situation modification and cognitive change. For example, lessons teach children to recognize personal triggers that typically send them into yellow and red zones. Then they practice ways of identifying and preparing for triggers beforehand. This way they can prevent themselves from losing control in situations where losing control has occurred in the past. In order to encourage children to take more ownership of their self-regulation skills, Kuypers also incorporates a number of cognitive behavioral strategies designed to increase positive self-talk, self-monitoring, and self-management.

One big advantage of Zones of Regulation methodology is that it focuses particular attention on teaching the self-regulation skills necessary for making and keeping friends. Children learn how their reactions in different zones affect others, including other children at school. They also practice recognizing other people's facial expressions and how these different facial expressions relate to different zones people are in. Children become more skilled at appreciating other people's moods and emotions. In teaching social skills, The Zones of Regulation methodology is intended for anyone who works with students K-12 struggling in area of self-regulation.

You can learn more about Zones of Regulation by logging on to the website or reading Leah Kuypers' book (which contains a CD ROM that includes reproducible visuals and handouts related to lessons): "The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control" (2011, Social Thinking Publishing,


Boris Gindis, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation (BGCenter)

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Article Title

Transition Planning for Internationally Adopted Adolescents with Educational Handicapping Conditions


Boris Gindis, Ph.D.

Posted Date



The purpose of this article is to help families with internationally adopted (IA) adolescents plan their youngsters' life after high school and ensure that they gain the skills, self-confidence and social connections they need for adulthood. The Individual Transitional Plan (ITP) is designed to create the basis for their future independent (or semi-independent) life, gainful (or supportive/sheltered) employment, and most importantly, the emotional stability and social connectedness that is the foundation for what is commonly known as "normal life".

Specificity of the IA children transitioning to adulthood

IA children with an educational classification (designation of educational handicapping condition) constitute a special group among students with different educationally related disabilities. IA child may have any of the 13 educational classifications listed in the major federal law, IDEA-2004 (Individuals with Disability Education Act, re-authorized by the Congress in 2004), or a combination of two or more of those conditions). Statistically, the most often classifications given to IA children are, in descending order, Other Health Impaired, Learning Disabled, Emotionally Disturbed, Speech/Language Impaired, Multiple Disability, Autism (Gindis, 2009).

Transition to adulthood is particularly hard for IA youngsters with special educational needs because their mental, neurological, and educational "profile" includes the following major features:

  • Neurological impairment(s) related to pre-and-post birth adverse conditions. Sometimes they have a distinct neurologically-based disorder such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Autism (Gindis, 2014). In most cases, however, there is a generalized (undifferentiated) weakness of the Central Nervous System that reveals itself in sensory-motor dis-integration, emotional reactivity and rigidity, dis-regulated attention and concentration, and a host of "soft" neurological signs (Miller, 2004, Marlow, 2005).
  • Exposure to severe neglect, abuse, and deprivation in the early, most formative years of their life has mediated their development and led to what is known as Developmental Trauma Disorder (Van der Kolk, B.A. 2005). Among most prominent characteristics of children affected with DTD are "mixed maturity" (delays in self-regulation of emotions and behavior), hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal, emotional fragility/oversensitivity, and cumulative delays in cognitive/academic functioning in comparison with age norms and expectations (Nemeroff, 2004, Gindis, 2005, Marlow, 2005, Perry, 2006, Gunnar, & Van Dulmen, 2007).
  • A range of atypical features resulting from the abrupt loss of their first language and a specific mode of learning English (Gindis, 2008) and difficulties in adjustment to their new social/cultural environment and more advanced educational system as consequence of social/cultural/educational deprivation in the past (Gindis, B. (2005).
  • A constellation of specific adoption issues (abandonment syndrome, attachment difficulties, negative self-perception, etc.) that creates a depressive emotional background for learning and socialization, particularly in the adolescent period of life (Welsh, 2007, Rolnick, 2010).

What is an Individual Transition Plan?

Individual Transition Plan (ITP) is an official term for the coordinated, systematic set of activities that creates a bridge between school and adult life for students age 14 to 22 with disabilities. ITP is a part of an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and should be based on this student's individual needs, strengths, skills, and interests. The ITP has to identify and develop goals to be accomplished during the remaining school years to assist the student in making his post-high school adjustment. Schools must report to the parents on the student's progress toward meeting his/her transition goals. School districts are responsible for the education of students with disabilities through the age of 21 unless a youngster graduates with a regular diploma before this age. By the law (IDEA-2004) IEP team must begun focusing on a transition plan by the time the child turns 16, (14 in many states).

It is only natural that the ITP is to be highly individualized to address the level of independence and competence of an adolescent. Based on the determined level of support needed, the ITP could be presented on one of the three levels of scaffolds: minimal, moderate, and significant.

  • Level 1 (minimal support is needed) is for students who could choose college, vocational school, or competitive employment with some accommodations as a post-secondary goal. They are expected to live independently with minimal initial guidance and supervision.
  • Level 2 (moderate support is needed) is for students who will be trained for non-technical jobs such as manual labor, possibly having supported or sheltered employment and semi-independent living as post-secondary goals.
  • Level 3 (significant support is needed) is for students who end up in sheltered workshops, attending a day program for adults and living in group homes with daily supervision.

Why is ITP so important for international adoptees?

All parents are to some extent aware that their adopted children, who are teenagers now, need guidance to transition successfully from high school to the next phase of young adulthood. However, not all parents really have a vision of concrete action steps that must be taken to guide and prepare teens for adult life. Without such a road map or guidance, no effective scaffolding is possible. Parents may be faced with numerous legal, organizational, financial, and parenting questions dictated by the degree of support their children need in the transition period and after. Among these questions are:

  • Will my child receive a regular high school diploma or a substandard document of educational attainment?
  • Which state and local agencies shall I apply to for help for my child?
  • Should my child receive more academic instruction or turn to occupational training?
  • What training programs are available and at what cost?
  • Will my child be able to get a paid job?
  • Will my child be able to live independently in the community? Which agencies can help me in this process?
  • Which public benefits will my child be eligible for? Will work affect his/her public benefits?
  • What supports are available for adults with significant disabilities?

Because of the complexities of public benefit systems for adults with disabilities (Social Security, vocational rehabilitation, Medicaid waivers, etc.), the youngster and parents should consult with a professional specializing in this area, such as independent educational consultant, psychologist, or lawyer to ensure they have maximized all possibilities for a brighter future for their international adoptees.

The structure of ITP for international adoptees

Based on many years of experience working with international adoptees and their adoptive families, school systems, and related state agencies, I suggest the following parts be present in an internationally adopted adolescent's Individual Transitional Plan:

  1. Legal foundation for IE and family/student's vision statements for after-school life.
  2. Developmental history.
  3. Results of the latest psychological, educational, and specialized assessments.
  4. Results of functional vocational (occupational) evaluation and development of vocational goals.
  5. Adaptive behavior and independent living goals.
  6. Plans for post-secondary education (college or vocational technical school).
  7. List of accommodations and support services.

1. The family and student's vision statements

In order to focus the IEP process on the future needs and create a base for the ITP, both the parents and the teenager ought to formulate what is known as "post-secondary vision statements." These statements must be a part of IEP at the age of 16. They could be as simple as:

"John would like to attend a four-year college. He is interested in computers and does well in math class. He would like to be a math or computer science major. He is interested in becoming an accountant or a computer programmer."

However, it is advisable to have a more elaborated vision statement, like this:

"Mr. and Mrs. G. formulated their vision statement for their son Sergey as "emotional stability, independent living, and gainful employment." The parents are open to various forms of training for their son: from vocational school to onsite learning/apprenticeship to community college. In their view, Sergey's strengths are good physical health, average intelligence close to grade requirements, academic functioning, age-appropriate language proficiency, interest in computer-based technology, and competence with certain computer applications. They see Sergey's weaknesses in immature social skills, poor self-regulation, and emotional fragility due to elevated anxiety with distinct depressive qualities."

As for Sergey's own expectations for life after school, they are:

"Make enough money to live on my own, do a job I am good at, preferably computer-related, have friends and a girlfriend, own a car. I am willing to continue education beyond high school, either part-time or full-time. I prefer to stay at home with my parents and continue with my post-school education and employment in my native state of Texas."

The vision statement is to be referred to in formulating post-secondary goals. In the same part of the ITP, I recommend placing all legal references and citations needed for the creation of an ITP: it gives the plan a solid legal footing.

2. Developmental History

This part of the ITP is crucial for internationally adopted youngsters, because many causes of neurologically-based disabilities and social/emotional problems are rooted in their developmental histories. This information has importance for understanding both current levels of functioning and future performance. For the majority of international adoptees, repetitive traumatization through abandonment, deprivation/neglect, institutionalization, and adoption to a foreign country may have accumulated to socially induced emotional trauma and predisposed them to a combination of delays in social/emotional maturity, self-regulatory capacity, cumulative cognitive/academic deficit, and emotional fragility. A lack of developmental and educational opportunities during the most formative period of their life may result in developmental delays in different domains of their social and academic functioning. Parents should not discount their adolescent's frequent self-perception as a "rejected" and "unwanted" person, which may result in low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and complicated interpersonal relationships. Last, but not least, the abrupt loss of their first language and their specific mode of English language learning contribute to both academic and social difficulties. Proper understanding and interpretation of international adoptees' developmental history is a vital part and the foundation of an ITP.

3. Results of the most recent assessments (cognitive, academic, social/emotional)

The ITP has to be written based on the most recent assessments.

  • Psychological (with cognitive and social/emotional component) completed within the last three years.
  • Educational, based on major achievement tests such as WJ-lV, and administered within the current or last school year. Educational assessments cannot be more than two semesters old.
  • Specialized assessment(s) if needed, such as speech and language, occupational or physical therapy, or assistive technology.

Accurate interpretation of the assessment results is the basis for developing an effective and realistic ITP.

4. Functional occupational evaluation and development of vocational goals

In order to create an ITP and its core - vocational goals - a student must go through an occupational assessment. This evaluation could be done at school or privately. Vocational (or occupational) evaluation has to be based on standardized tests, formal questionnaires and inventories, informal interviews, and the collection/analyses of the related documents. Here are a few recommendations:

Interest inventories compare the youngster's interests with the interests of people working in specific jobs. This will help the student identify what he or she might be interested in doing as a career. An example of interest inventories is the Strong Interests Inventory (Hamon, et. el. 1994), known as Strong, which gives lists of jobs that line up with a person's interests, pointing out clusters of jobs to explore. Please be aware that your adopted son or daughter may have a career goal that will be difficult to impossible to achieve because of their disability, level of functioning, or emotional instability. Interest inventories can help the ITP team to identify a different job in the same field that your child could do. For example, your daughter wants to be a veterinarian, but at the age of 17 she, due to her disability, reads on the sixth grade level and her math is seven grades below her formal placement in the 11th grade. Does your daughter only want to be a veterinarian, or does she really want to work with animals? Would your daughter be happy working as a caregiver to animals at an animal hospital or animal shelter? Your child may be interested in a job other than the one he or she initially identifies.

Personality tests measure motivations, needs, and attitudes. They may help to discover whether a particular child is suited for a certain career or not. An example of personality tests that is often used in association with the Strong Interests Inventory is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Quenk, 2009).

Career development scales help to determine your adolescent's ability to perform a particular job and its required tasks and thus help to formulate specific career goals. Examples of career development tools are the Career Decision Scale ( and the Job Search Attitude Survey (

Self-determination assessments are designed to measure your adolescent's abilities in goal setting, problem solving, self-advocacy, self-evaluation, persistence, and self-confidence. An example of a self-determination assessment is the AIR Self-Determination Scale ( ), parent's, student's, and educator's form.

Please note that all these methods have limitations and can only serve as a "navigation tool." Practical experience and research reviews suggest the following cluster of scales and inventories as the "best practice" in the career exploration process:

  • The Strong Interest Inventory (Strong) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
  • AIR self-determination scales (student, parents, and teachers forms)
  • Career Assessment Interview (student and parent forms)
  • Learning style assessment scale

These instruments focus on abilities/skills, personal preferences, and aptness for the specific occupations. School-to-work transition program goals and objectives should include the domains of job awareness, job searching skills, work behaviors/social skills, basic money management, self-awareness, and other forms of knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Here are examples of such goals:

Goal 1: Sam will complete activities in the area of exploring personal interests, values, skills, and abilities related to employment and file work in a vocational notebook for reference.

  • Use interest inventories to identify a number of occupational groups for exploration.
  • Describe the importance of individual characteristics in getting and keeping a job.
  • Explore the educational requirements of various occupations.
  • Make decisions and set appropriate career goals.
  • Demonstrate the use of a range of resources to gather information about careers.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of how occupational skills and knowledge can be acquired.
  • Explain how employment opportunities relate to education and training.

Goal 2: Anna will complete a variety of real work tasks to explore and evaluate vocational potential in the areas of work skills, abilities and behavior.

  • Apply employability and job readiness skills to internship, mentoring, shadowing and/or other work related experiences.
  • Evaluate the relationship between Anna's individual interests, abilities, and skills and the achievement of individual, social, educational, and career goals.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and application of safety standards to the work setting.
  • Apply job readiness skills to seek employment opportunities.

5. Adaptive behavior and independent living objectives

An important part of an ITP is the question of where and what type of living arrangement your adolescent is expected to have in after-school life. Independent living skills are everyday things adults do such as preparing meals, paying bills and banking, doing laundry, having good personal hygiene, managing medications and health care, maintaining a home, traveling around town, shopping, eating out, budgeting, maintaining safety, etc. The ITP team must think about how these skills relate to other post-secondary goals in education, vocational training, and employment. This aspect of ITP is based on administration of the Adaptive Behavior Assessment Scale, Third Edition (Harrison @ Oakland, 2015).) and several interviews with the parents and adolescent. This part of the ITP is particularly important for Level 3 (significant and multiple support) of the transitional plan. The goals and objectives for this section of the ITP may look like this:

Goal 1: Sam will develop independent cooking skills.
Objectives: (1) Sam will pack his lunch independently by January 15th, (2) Sam will prepare his breakfast independently by February 1st, (3) Sam will independently cook one hot meal using the microwave by June 1st, (4) Sam will make macaroni and cheese for dinner using the gas stove by June 15th, (5) Sam will make dinner for himself three times a week by September 1st.

Goal 2: Anna will travel to and from work by herself, using the bus system.
Objectives: (1) Anna will learn to read the bus schedule and walk to the bus stop from home with assistance by the end of first quarter, (2) Anna will learn to board the bus and signal the bus driver for her stop by the end of second quarter, (3) Anna will learn to walk from the bus stop to her job by the end of third quarter, (4) Anna will learn to take the return trip home by bus by the end of fourth quarter, (5) Anna will take the bus to and from work by herself by next year.

6. Post-secondary education (college or vocational technical school)

This part of the ITP is an exploration of the possibility and necessity of continued post-secondary education on different levels and in various forms. The selection of post-secondary education is to be practical, realistic, and in connection with other aspects of the transitional plan.

7. Accommodations and support

In this section of the ITP the appropriate support services and different accommodations should be listed and discussed. Students with disabilities are entitled to SAT exam accommodations such as extended time. This accommodation is granted by the College Board's Services for Students with Disability (, and a proof of disability is needed. College related accommodations may include note-taking services and smart pens, voice recognition software, text-to-speech programs, training in adaptive technology, use of laptops for tests and exams, use of calculators for tests and exams, reduced course load, help with study skills and time management, etc. Accommodations and support services could be rather contentious issues between the family/adolescent on one side and the post-school educational or training institution on the other. This matter is to be carefully thought out and properly presented to the college or technical school of your choice. A youngster's self-advocacy may play the crucial role in obtaining needed accommodations and support services.

Self-advocacy implies knowing when a person can benefit from asking for help, learning to tell others what's needed, asking for help in different ways from different people, and thanking people who help along the way. Self-advocacy is one of the most important "transition" skills a student can learn in school. Teaching and learning of self-advocacy skills are to be specific goals in the ITP; for example:

  • Maria will be able to communicate her accommodation needs to employers and service providers.
  • John will learn how to identify the authorities (e.g. supervisor, human resources person, administrator, etc.) to whom he needs to address his requests for accommodations.
  • Vika will learn how to file a complaint if she meets an obstacle getting her accommodations; she will learn through documenting communications and interactions in a journal and keeping copies of all letters, e-mails, policies, and procedures.

Please remember that self-advocacy becomes effective when your child understands his/her strengths and weaknesses and is able to communicate them to other people. The benefits of self-advocacy go beyond academics into the domain of socialization. It is a dynamic and ongoing process as the individual changes over time. Parents need to help their internationally adopted child with disability develop this powerful skill.

ITP implementation

While the IEP is implemented at school only, the ITP is to be implemented at school, at home, and in the community. Most important: some of these goals can be reached only by cooperation between the family, school, state agencies, and community. Don't expect the school to do it all alone. There are 168 hours in a week; 133 hours are spent at home and only 35 hours at school.

At home: Some goals of the ITP are clearly home-based, particularly those related to independent living skills, choice of occupation, and development of self-determination and self-advocacy. All children do learn independent living skills in the family through observation, imitation, modeling, participation, but for an IA adolescent with disability, this must be a focused and planned activity. For example:

  • Open a bank account and learn to manage money.
  • Learn to shop for groceries; plan and prepare meals.
  • Be responsible for maintaining a car and choosing auto insurance.
  • Learn how to use public transportation.
  • Schedule own appointments with the doctor and dentist.
  • Set up and use a calendar for school, work, personal appointments and leisure time.

In the community: Goals could include exploration of career options from school to workplace, from volunteer work to local internships and apprenticeships. Many communities have a variety of resources for helping students in the transition process: youth employment programs, Transition Partnership Programs, and local vocational centers that offer training in many occupations (see:,

At school: Adoptive parents need to be fully aware of the available options and what their children are entitled to in our educational system. They have to understand that:

  • An ITP is based on the most recent psychological and educational evaluations, reflecting the student's academic standing within the current school year, and thus can be no older than one to two semesters.
  • The school's special education staff is mandated by the law to provide students with counseling, help identify vocational interests, participate in educational and vocational planning, and help with goal setting, pre-vocational skills training, academic support, and connection to specific programs and services.
  • Transition-related services that are available to all high school students include guidance counseling, career center services, and career education vocational courses.

It is important for parents and students to understand their state's requirements for graduation. Many different state workers and state agencies may be involved in developing an effective plan. Broad networking and creative thinking may be necessary to achieve success. The following major transition services are to be considered in the ITP:

  • Instruction: This relates to the academic requirements of the student's chosen course of study, employment skills training, career technical education, social skills, driver's education, and/or college entrance preparation.
  • Related Services: This may include occupational/physical/speech therapy, counselling, special transportation, and travel training.
  • Community Experience: This may include community work experience, recreation/leisure activities, tours of post-secondary education settings, residential and community tours, volunteering and training in accessing community settings, or joining a team/club/organization.
  • Employment: This may include career planning, job shadowing, guidance counselling, interest inventories, job placement, internship options, on-the-job training, on-campus jobs, or supported employment.
  • Adult Living Skills: This may include referral to Vocational Rehabilitation Services, researching Social Security benefits/work incentives, exploring residential options, training in renting a home and in personal home management, and reading a map of the community or using "Google Maps" on the computer. Daily Living Skills may include self-care training, health and wellness training, independent living training, and money management.
  • Functional Vocational Evaluation: This may include situational work assessments, work samples, work adjustment programs, aptitude tests and a series of job try-outs.

If your child goes to college:

All students finishing secondary education get either a standard diploma or a certificate which has different titles in different states. If you are considering post-secondary occupational training or college, work with your child to avoid getting a "certificate." A high school diploma is needed for practically all forms of after-school training or education.

Every college in the United States is required to have an office to provide services and accommodations to students with disabilities. The exact name of this office varies (Education and Disability Resources, Disability Support Services, Center for Student Success, etc.), but all such offices have the same legal responsibility -- to provide accommodations and support to students with disabilities. Moreover, there are two post-secondary educational institutions (Beacon College in Florida and Landmark College in Vermont) that specialize in working with students with different learning disabilities. Your selection of college, among other things, will depend on the "fit" between your youngster's need for support and the accommodations the college is able to provide.

A parent of an IA youngster with an educational classification needs to understand the difference between an IEP and a Section 504 Plan:

  • An IEP contains a designation of disability, the methodologies to remediate the disability, and the management procedures for addressing it through special education placement, remedial instructions, accommodations, and related support services. The IEP is mandated and regulated by IDEA-2004. Your child's IEP will end with his or her high school graduation.
  • A Section 504 Plan is a range of accommodations suitable for post-secondary education (or occupational training). Colleges and trade schools accept only Section 504 Plans, which are regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Amended Acts of 2008 (ADA AA).

Assuming that your child graduates with a regular diploma, carefully examine his or her most recent IEP to see how to convert it into a 504 plan. This is your way to ensure that accommodations continue in the post-secondary environment under the protection of the ADA AA. Remember, this is to be done while your child is still in high school, prior to graduation. Before taking your child off the IEP, you should request a Summary of Performance (SoP). This record is required under IDEA-2004: "....for a child whose eligibility under special education terminates due to graduation with a regular diploma, or due to exceeding the age of eligibility, the local educational agency shall provide the child with a summary of the child's academic achievement and functional performance, which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child's post-secondary goals" [20 USC 1414(c)(5)(B)(ii)].

This document is a comprehensive presentation of your child's academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses at the moment the IEP ends and the accommodation plan of the Section 504 plan begins. Visit the office of disability at the college of your choice and confirm with a guidance counselor there that your child's 504 Plan is consistent with the college requirements. Make revisions in the 504 Plan, if necessary. Have your youngster be ready to self-advocate for his/her educational needs.


Internationally adopted children have experienced many transitions in their lives. The most important of these changes were, of course, adoption to a foreign country and life in the family vs. life in an orphanage. The transition from high school to adulthood can also be challenging for these young people. Individual Transitional Planning should begin early, be realistic, effective, and highly individualized to meet yours and your child's vision of the future.


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Boris Gindis, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation (BGCenter)

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