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Psychological services for internationally adopted children
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Many parents of the internationally adopted youngsters find themselves in situations when their child demonstrates speech and language issues in the native tongue that may be perceived at school as transient and borderline, i.e. not significant enough, to warrant any intensive speech/language remediation. This misunderstanding typically arises from a lack of exposure of some educators and mental health professionals to the specific needs and problems of international adoptees. But the accumulated experience shows that any delay with timely remedial services is likely to cause magnified problems in the English language learning. To help parents address this issue with their school, below is a template of a letter to your educational facility with detailed explanations that you can bring up when requesting remedial services for your child. You are also welcome to print out the referenced articles and bring them to your school.

To: Mr. X, Principal,
George Washington Elementary School
Anytown, Any State 01234

Dear Mr. X:

My daughter _____________ is ________ yeas old and she was adopted from _________ __ months ago. She had a speech and language assessment in her native tongue on arrival, but the remedial services for her were denied.

It is quite typical of the 3-4 yeas old internationally adopted children to have borderline receptive and expressive language skills in their native language at adoption, accompanied by some deficits in speech production (articulation and fluency). Many of these children have difficulty performing language-based reasoning tasks: making inferences, identifying categories, completing analogies and answering hypothetical questions - the tasks that are expected to be mastered by the preschool children.

These deficits may not seem to be of high significance/severity, and that would be true for a child with an unremarkable psycho-educational and social history. My child's background, however, is drastically different. She came from a dysfunctional family where she spent the first ---------------years of her life. Later on, at the age of ____________, she was institutionalized (placed in an orphanage) where she stayed until her adoption at the age of ___________. Thus, the bulk of her most sensitive period for language development had been spent in a dysfunctional home and/or in an institutional setting. As a post-institutional child, my daughter was and still is more predisposed to language deficits during her school years, even if these deficits do not seem very severe at this moment.

Another critical point concerns my child's language dominance. She was dominant in the __________ language at the time of her adoption. Most likely, this is no longer the case. According to the available research (Gindis 2008), she is likely to lose her native language, both receptive and expressive, within the three to five months of her stay in the United States. Thus, it is very likely that she has lost the bulk of her native language already. The crucial point, however, is that according to the available research and practice, internationally adopted children usually follow a subtractive model of the second language learning, in which losing the first language occurs much faster than mastering the new one, and acquisition of the cognitive language skills is lagging behind the communicative skills very significantly.

If my daughter's language skills are to be tested now, three months later, in both languages, she is likely to be English dominant, with the overall test results being lower than those demonstrated after her arrival to the United States; this is despite the fact that my daughter's chronological age has increased. This expected drop in her language performance is likely due to her very speedy loss of her native language and a much slower acquisition of English. The truth is this gap will widen as the time progresses.

Without the speech/language services in place, my daughter may do fine in kintergarten, as she will most likely demonstrate adequate interpersonal communication skills. However, she is likely to face huge deficits later on when she is expected to show mastery of cognitive language. As Gindis (2005) indicates, it is very common for children who were adopted before the school age to do well in kindergarten, with no obvious academic problems until the end of the first grade/the beginning of the second grade when the teacher begins reporting the student's difficulty understanding complex stories, following multi-sequential instructions or understanding higher level reasoning questions the very same issues that my daughter had difficulty with during the language test at the time of her initial evaluation.

It is extremely important to understand that my daughter's background is different from the background of most of the children in the school system. She is not a typical bilingual child growing up in a bilingual family. If my daughter is not provided with speech/language services now, the valuable time will be lost and her deficits in high level reasoning skills will resurface with the increased intensity. It is my strong conviction that the speech/language services are a must, not a luxury for my child and should be provided before she fails now in the English language.


Gindis, B. (1999) Language-Related Issues for International Adoptees and Adoptive Families. In: T. Tepper, L. Hannon, D. Sandstrom, Eds. "International Adoption: Challenges and Opportunities." PNPIC, Meadow Lands , PA. , pp. 98-108.

Mrs. Y.


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