Initial developmental evaluation of an internationally adopted child: is it important?
Practically all internationally adopted children upon arrival go through a medical examination for possible medical rehabilitation or prevention. Unfortunately, psycho-educational and speech and language assessments of a school age child are the exception rather than the rule. Too often, school districts assume a "wait-and-see" attitude, rejecting request for such an evaluation and suggesting "to wait until the child learns more English." In many cases, however, parents cannot afford losing any time without proper assessment and remediation of an internationally adopted child. A psycho-educational assessment is a must if there are "red flags" in medical records of your child, such as
“Delay in language and psychological development,” “a child did not start school at age 7 or was retained in elementary school,” “a child was a student in special school,” or “a child received remedial services in school in the native country.”
Let’s look at the reasons why the initial evaluation is essential for these children.
First of all, your school-age child has to be appropriately placed at school. But there are no "one-size-fits-all" recommendations regarding grade placement, specific educational programs, remediation, and support services. The decision should always be highly individualized and based on thorough consideration of many factors. School districts have a tendency to place newly-arrived school-age internationally-adopted children in a grade according to their age, which is the usual practice for children from immigrant families in the United States. However, it may not be appropriate for many adopted children. Your pediatrician, who, as a rule, is not familiar with the specifics of the school system, may recommend "age-appropriate placement" based on his view of general health of the child. However, age that guides your school district and physical soundness that guides your pediatrician are only two of many factors to be considered.
What about language development, social skills, self-regulation, mastery of age-appropriate cognitive skills, ability and willingness to participate in shared activity? An "academic readiness" in relation to an adopted child must be thoroughly examined and properly understood. The academic pressure in an "age-based" classroom along with general adjustment, acculturation and language acquisition, possibly accompanied by neurological problems, may spell trouble for a child and the new family.
A timely psycho-educational evaluation will reveal individual differences and educational needs of your child and lead to proper school placement that is important for overall adjustment, emotional well-being and future educational his/her.
Secondly, the language of the assessment is a critical issue. The evaluation in the native language should be done soon after arrival, before the native language of a child is weakened and eventually extinguished. One of the most shocking discoveries made with internationally adopted children throughout the years was the swiftness with which they lose their mother tongue.
So, for all children younger than 7 the assessment should be done within the first several weeks. For those who are literate in their native language, in the 7 to 10 or older age group - the time frame is the first three months. An assessment done in the native language of a child has, at times, unwavering importance. If an evaluation in native language was not done by a bilingual professional within the first three months, it would be difficult to prove the eligibility of this child for any remedial services later. Too often, school districts are saying that the learning difficulties that the parents refer to are just the normal occurrences in the process of second language learning and the child needs more time within the English language environment to alleviate these difficulties.
Without an assessment in the native language, you may not prove the genuine need for remedial help. To make the measurements and tests reliable, the assessment in the English language, on the other hand, should take place only when this language becomes, beyond a reasonable doubt, the dominant or stronger means not only of communication, but also reasoning of your child. The English language dominance and level of proficiency must be established before the evaluation is performed. And this will happen only months and months later. Until this moment comes, the initial psycho-educational evaluation in the native language is the only way to find out if there are any developmental delays and remedial needs in your child, which should be addressed without delay.