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Why a psycho-educational evaluation
of a school age internationally adopted child is to be done as soon as possible?

Published in: Adoption Today, June/July 2004 - Volume 6, Number 6, p.56.

Boris Gindis, Ph.D.,
NYS Licensed Psychologist

Practically all internationally adopted children go through a medical examination upon arrival for possible medical rehabilitation or prevention. Unfortunately, a psycho-educational or speech and language assessment of a school age child is the exception rather than the rule. Too often, school districts assume a "wait-and-see" attitude rejecting a request for evaluation in order "to wait until the child learns more English." In many cases, however, we cannot afford to lose any time with- out proper assessment and remediation.
A psycho-educational assessment is a must if there is a "red flag" in your child's medical records --delay in language and psychological development-- or educational history -- 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 his or her native country.
A timely psycho-educational evaluation leads to a proper school placement that is important for your child's overall adjustment, emotional well-being and future educational progress. There is no "one-size-fits-all" recommendation regarding grade placement, specific educational programs, remediation, and support services - the decision should always be highly individualized and based on a 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 the child's general health. 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 and joint 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 the general adjustment and acculturation, language acquisition, and possibly accompanied by health and neurological problems, may lead to frustration in a child and his or her new family.
The language of the assessment is the critical issue. The evaluation in the native language should be done soon after arrival, before the child's native language gets weakened and eventually extinguished. For all children younger than 7 this ought to 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.
One of the most shocking discoveries made with internationally adopted children throughout the years was the swiftness with which they lose their mother tongue. An assessment done in a child's native language has, at times, unwavering importance. If there is no evaluation in a child's native language by a bilingual professional within the first three months, it would be difficult to prove this child's eligibility for any remedial services. 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.
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. The English language dominance and level of proficiency must be established before the evaluation is performed.

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