Language Delay Is Common
Formal testing reveals that internationally adopted children often initially fall below age expectations in motor abilities, cognitive development, and language/communication skills. They then receive services to address those needs and "catch up." Whatever the combination of delayed skills, language delay is the most common. This makes sense, since these children have moved from one language environment to another during critical periods of development.
Evaluation for the youngest children examines factors that affect pre-language communication skills, such as facial response, an early cooing stage, and basic social interaction. Older children who lived in their native country beyond the customary age of language acquisition (generally 15 months to 2 years) require bilingual evaluation to check, for instance, if they can put two words together in their native tongue. Often these youngsters show delays in both languages, as their primary tongue possibly was not sufficiently nourished because they were institutionalized with little interaction, language exposure, or reinforcement to sounds.
Approximately 70 percent of the internationally adopted children I evaluate test significantly below age expectation for language skills. Speech and language therapy follows. This approach isolates and structures language in a very consistent, fun format. It infuses the child's auditory environment with the sounds that present difficulty, while providing a nurturing setting for practice and experimentation. This enables children to make language connections at a faster rate than would otherwise happen.
For most internationally adopted children, speech delays are transitional. Success rates are very high, following auditory stimulation therapy. Speech and language therapy often dramatically increases the rate of second language acquisition and eliminates emotional distress by setting up opportunities for early success. It affords children the social advantage and helping hand that they need to catch up with their peers. The developmental improvements that follow speech therapy, based on my experience, encourage both the individual children and their families as well.
If you would like more information on speech and language acquisition or other issues mentioned in this article, call SPARK at 212-360-0259 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.