Posted by: fatherof11 | June 26, 2008

Education – More on Language Acquisition

One of the difficulties that parents run into when placing their older adopted foreign children in traditional schools is that most of the people in these schools have very little experience with this type of educational needs.  If they do, it is usually with ESL (English as a Second Language) students.  However, most of those children are not adoptees, but immigrants. The result is that they have very little understanding of the older adopted child’s unique issues. Since these kids need curricula which is highly tailored to their individual needs, the failure to understand their issues results in them being misplaced within the system.

We often see these kids being diagnosed and labeled with problems that are simply the result of the other issues we have discussed to date.  For example, one of our daughters who was adopted from a disruption was labeled as having “language delays”.  She was tested after having been in the US for about one year, after having spoken another language for the first eight years of her life.  There was no reason to believe that she should be at an age appropriate level with regard to the language.  Yet she was labeled as such and placed in special education classes.  While she did need special help, she did not need to be treated as someone with a learning disability, rather as someone who was otherwise capable but lacking in the necessary skills.   In fact, when we looked at some of her school work from that time frame, we were impressed by how far she had progressed up to that point.  Now, five years post adoption, it is obvious that she is in fact a bright girl, with no appreciable learning problems other than having been convinced that she had problems learning.

The problem stems from the fact that the norms for most tests are based on some assumptions which these kids do not meet.  For instance the norms for language development assume that the child has spoken a single language their entire life.   Clearly, this is not true of these children. It is invalid to use a test for lifetime English speakers to evaluate such a child.

In this example, our experience has shown that the age at which the children start learning the new language can have a profound effect on their ability to pick up the new language. For instance, we have been told, and also observed, that children who start learning their second language post puberty have a much harder time losing their accents.   We also suspect that the original language can have an effect on the rate of learning, since some languages have more similarities to English than other.  To assign a label based on some standardized test in such a case is wholly inappropriate.

In our current system, once a label has been placed on a child, it can be very difficult to get rid of.  Schools typically receive extra funding for special education students.  This can lead to a hesitancy to remove the labels and thus lose funding.  Other factors play into this as well.  Unfortunately, with a label in place, it often forces the child into certain paths through the system.  If these paths are inappropriate, the child’s education can suffer.

Again, the obvious solution is that someone intimately aware of the child’s strengths, weaknesses, and background needs to guide and direct the child’s education.  Homeshcooling, or an intimate school setting with low student to teacher ratios, provides the freedom to do so.

These children often do have learning disabilities or other issues that affect their ability to learn.  However, this cannot be determined by using the tests provided by the professionals.  These children simply do not fit into the populations that the tests were designed for.  Only someone who can sit down with the child and see the difference between “struggling to learn the language” and “struggling despite the language” can make valid judgments with regard to their education.  


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