International Adoption Info

Newsletter #136 for Internationally Adopting Parents
October 14, 2010
PAL Center Inc.


your parenting skills with


Online Class
for parents adopting older children internationally



November 5-6th, 2010
Good Hope Adoption Services, Inc

School Issues Of Internationally Adopted Children.

Cumulative Cognitive Deficit in Internationally Adopted Children

November 17, 2010
Susan Luger Associates

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in internationally adopted children

November 21th, 2010
30th APC Adoption Conference

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in International Adoptees:
Differential Diagnosis and Remediation.

Psychological assessment of internationally adopted children –
what to request and expect
from the professionals.

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Questions and Answers

Reading Comprehension

I'm wondering where to find help for my 6th grade daughter in reading. She was adopted at age 9 and is now 12 and in 6th grade. Although she reads long chapter books, she tends to miss the thread, or the important points. If she sees the movie first (like Harry Potter) she does better. She has a great memory, and will simply memorize verbatim definitions and answers from her textbooks, but her comprehension, and ability to explain anything in depth or with supporting detail is weak. Her teachers don't see anything seriously wrong, she gets by.
Her ability to handle frustration is almost nonexistent; if she finds something hard, she immediately quits and melts down. So getting her to finish a book or stick with anything at all is difficult.
She is very competitive, but she is falling ever farther behind.

From a message of a parent

B. Gindis, Ph.D.
Problems with reading comprehension are typical for international adoptees, particularly those adopted after their six birthday and leaving in the American family less than 5 years. Many exhibited reading comprehension around the 2nd to 4th grade; this often comes as a surprise for the families, as these children do not show any noticeable language skills deficits up to this moment: they are fluent in oral conversations, and seemingly do not differ at all in this aspect from their peers in the classroom.
Based on my experience with hundreds of internationally adopted children undergoing psychological assessments at the BGCenter, I can trace the roots of their reading comprehension problems to 3 major issues:

  1. Lack of cultural context awareness.
  2. Delayed cognitive processes and skills necessary for a speedy cognitive/ academic language acquisition.
  3. Emotional problems related to weakened nervous system and developmental trauma, lower self-esteem and motivation, which often block cognitive processes involved in reading activity.

>A lot more research would be required to quantify and describe the inter-relations between these three aspects of an internationally adopted child’s reading comprehension skills development, but in practical terms, separation of these aspects may help parents to approach each of them through a specific methodology that already exists.

Stating this, I have to say that your situation has some specificity: in some aspects your daughter differs from many of my patients. As you described, she has good retrieval skills, “she memorizes verbatim definitions and answers from her textbooks” and she is a good speller. Still, the above described factors are applicable to your case:

  1. Your daughter has been in the country for 4 years. Therefore, I think that the first factor - lack of cultural context awareness, is still applicable to her. You wrote: “If she sees the movie first (like Harry Potter) she does better”. That is exactly what I meant by the lack of cultural context.
  2. Your daughter's cognitive/academic language (not cognitive skills per se) may not be strong enough for reading comprehension. Understanding directions, organizing information, building a database of general knowledge, developing effective problem-solving strategies, understanding information as it becomes more syntactically complex, and expressing herself effectively are all dependent on what is called cognitive/academic language. Do you or your teachers know what your daughter’s level of functioning in the cognitive/ academic (not communicative) aspect of the English language is?
  3. You listed poor concentration, lack of motivation and persistence, low frustration level, etc. as contributing elements into your daughter’s reading problems. You are correct in your observation: this is what is described by the third factor (emotional/motivational problem).
What can be done to prevent your daughter from falling behind even more?
  • First, she needs a comprehensive assessment that goes beyond typical school testing to see if any medical diagnosis is applicable; to determine how her strengths can be used in remediation; to develop an intense programming for her to help her catch up before CCD settles in (please read about CCD at:
  • Second, your daughter may need specific remediation in cognitive/academic language.
  • Third, she may need specific instructions in strategies for understanding the reading discourse.
  • Forth, in addition to the above, you need to work with your daughter in the family.
Raise your daughter’s cultural awareness, the contextual knowledge of her reading material. In general, go back culturally to the beginnings: songs, riddles, cartoons, books, images, games, routines, favorite places, sounds, food, activities, interactions with adults and pets – everything that surrounds a child born into this culture has to be re-introduced into your adopted child’s life and be reinforced through multiple repetitions. Help her learn about her surroundings: it’s just as important as learning the ABCs. Go as far back developmentally, as you can, making sure every new piece of information and experience is linked to something she has already acquired.

Absence of appropriate cognitive strategies or ineffective and non-persistent deployment of those strategies is a common cause of comprehension failure in IA children. Reading comprehension is a process of integration of decoding ability, vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge of the topic. Consider relevant strategies to make sense of a text and understand it. “Comprehension strategies are specific, learned procedures that foster active, competent, self-regulated, and intentional reading” (Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002, p. 177). In many cases, after assessing my patients and determining the specificity of their issues, I recommended reading comprehension strategy instruction (CSI). CSI refers to a training methodology where activities are divided into subgroups, e.g., vocabulary training and reinforcement, text enhancement (e.g., underlining and highlighting), self-questioning. CSI is appropriate for children who consistently fail to develop a coherent understanding of material that is read. The failure to develop understanding may be generalized across large numbers of different types of reading materials or be restricted to domains with which the reader lacks familiarity. CSI has been validated for both generalized comprehension failures and for specific domains only (e.g. science texts).


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