International Adoption Info

Newsletter #98 for Internationally Adopting Parents
November 13, 2008
PAL Center Inc.



Workshops with
Dr. Gindis' participation
in November 2008

The 28th Annual Adoption Conference

Adoption... Where the Joy Begins

Presented by the Adoptive Parents Committee, Inc.

Sunday, November 23, 2008
8:00AM - 5:00PM

Weill Cornell Medical Center
1300 York Ave.
East 70th St.
New York City, New York



BA Haller
Adoptions of children with Down syndrome on the rise
For many parents, a diagnosis of Down syndrome can be overwhelming as they face the likelihood that the child will struggle to live independently and will require intensive medical, financial and social support. Most prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome lead to abortion. Yet almost 200 families are on a waiting list to adopt a child with Down syndrome in the United States. Others are seeking to adopt such children overseas.

Cindy LaJoy
Anonymous Judgment of All of us IA Parents - Part 2

Commentary on the article
The Lie We Love By E. J. Graff, published in the November 2008 issue of Foreign Policy magazine.

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Case study: ESL & Internationally Adopted Child
B.Gindis Ph.D.

    Many years have passed since international adoption began to spread in the US. Many schools now have some experience with international adoptees, but a poor understanding
    of these children's school related needs by school personnel is still a cause of parent's disappointment. One of the contentious issues is the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Every parent's story is unique in a way, but combined together, parents present
    a bleak picture of daily frustration and slow progress of some internationally adopted
    children in the ESL classes, which were (ideally!) enforced to scaffold them to a brighter
    start in this new cultural and linguistic environment.

    Historically, ESL was designed for students from new immigrant families. At present, ESL
    is a mandatory, federally funded program for every non-English speaking child entering a public school system. The teaching methodology of ESL programs is designed for children from families where another language is spoken. But internationally adopted children live
    in the English-only monolingual families, and we have a unique and paradoxical situation when students, who are legally eligible for ESL, have the English language as their home language! Here's how parents describe these concerns in their own words:

    "My 9 year old, adopted two years ago, is stuck in an ESL program, which is usually
    pushed as a good thing and may be OK for some kids, but there seems to be no benefit
    for my child and no way out. My son is pulled out from his classroom and often misses important instruction time and tests. A constantly changing schedule of these services is stressful for him: there are too many distractions and hardly any homework. He meets 2
    of the criteria for exit from the ESL program (speaking and understanding), but fails
    reading and writing portions of the exit test. At this time he does not understand a single word in Russian, of course."

    "I adopted an 8 year old boy a year ago; he was placed in 2nd grade and received ESL services last year and continues to receive them this year in 3rd grade. His spoken
    English is quite good. He is reading somewhere on the first grade level. My son's
    teachers get very confused about how much English my son actually knows. He has
    trouble with complicated sentence structures, some vocabulary, and some advanced concepts, and the assignments and tests are too sophisticated for him."

    The specifics of English language acquisition by an internationally adopted child should
    be properly understood in order to modify ESL instructions accordingly. Internationally
    adopted children, though a part of the English Language Learners (ELL) group, differ
    from the rest of the ELL population in many aspects. I wrote about that before (see Internationally adopted post-institutionalized students in an ESL class). In a nutshell:

    • IA children do not have a well developed first (native) language.
    • IA children are not bilingual: they are monolingual upon arrival, knowing only
      their native language; and after several months they are monolingual again, only
      this time in English.
    • IA children forget the first language extraordinary quickly because they do not have motivation and practical support for it, while the English language learning is their highest priority and survival necessity.
    • IA children learn English in a different way than other ELL: they master English according to a "subtractive" model and they learn its communicative and cognitive/academic aspects concurrently, though at a different pace. It takes older
      IA children many years to catch up academically, and they may be unable to pass
      ESL exit tests successfully for a longer time.
    • The English language becomes their new native language within the first year in the family, sharply differentiating IA children from other ELL students.
    • ESL is often provided on a pull out basis, distracting these children from other academic subjects. These children typically lack emotional stability and self
      regulation to adjust to an additional distraction of being taken out of the general
      class and being singled out from their peers.

    What to do if the child can't pass ESL exit reading/writing tests?

    Does an ESL program, as it is applied in the majority of schools, help IA children enough? Not always, as many internationally adopting parents would admit. To be useful for IA children, ESL has to concentrate more on cognitive/academic language development and
    the necessity of IA children to quickly absorb the cultural/linguistic experience of their American born peers.

    Yet another reason for concern is a possibility of getting stuck in an ESL class when the
    child has more than just a lack of cultural and linguistic exposure. It may be an
    educational handicapping condition that prevents the child from passing ESL exit exam.
    We have to understand clearly that ESL is not a special remedial service - it is an
    academic subject: it should not be used as a substitute for any special education service
    or prevent the child from receiving such services, as in the parent's description below:

    "My biggest concern is my daughter's poor comprehension. On the level of reading words, she tests nearly at grade level, but she doesn't make sense of what she reads. A book report assignment was a nightmare, despite a skilled and sympathetic classroom teacher. Sometimes she gets a general idea from the context, and other times she just guesses,
    and therefore responds inappropriately. But I'm beginning to think there may be more to the problem than just vocabulary."

    Does it mean that ESL is not helpful at all to IA children? Not necessarily! At the beginning
    of their school career and until their first language has functionally vanished, they may benefit from a modified ESL instruction. If a child after 10 months is not able to pass an
    exit test, it is very likely that this child needs remediation rather than continuation with
    the ESL in the next school year.

    In such situations the parents should take the following steps:

    1. Get an affidavit. Get a written note - affidavit, signed by a college educated native speaker of the language (it can be a teacher, a pediatrician, a psychologist, etc.) that
    your child's first language is non-functional any longer and cannot be used for school instructions, casual communication, or high-order reasoning; that the child has now only
    the English language - the only language available for all practical and educational purposes.

    2. Write a letter to your principle (always opt for written documentation), where you introduce the IDEA's (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) definition of "native language" as qualifying basis to request a psycho-educational evaluation for classification
    of your daughter or son as a child with disability, eligible for special education services. I suggest that in a letter you quote the following abstract from the IDEA-Part B Code of Federal Regulations, CFR (§300.19):

    As used in this part, the term native language, if used with reference to an individual of limited English proficiency, means the following:

    (a)(1)The language normally used by that individual, or, in the case of a child, the language normally used by the parents of the child, except as provided in paragraph (a)(2) of this section.
    (a)(2)In all direct contact with a child (including evaluation of the child), the language normally used by the child in the home or learning environment.

    In your situation, English satisfies both (1) and (2) of the code. So, even though the
    school may contend that your child is an individual of Limited English Proficiency (LEP), it still is the fact that his native language is English.

    3. Request that your child is removed from the ESL program concurrently with the request for a psycho-educational assessment, being necessary because of
    your child's obvious delay with the English language as compared to other monolingual children. Just dropping an ESL program might be not enough for your child's situation,
    as it will not automatically improve the grasp of the cognitive language, even being more consistently exposed to it during the academic subjects.

    In conclusion, parents need to be educated, persistent, and proactive: it can make a big difference for your child.


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