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Research explores why some internationally adopted children excel while others struggle

Over the past decade, U.S. citizens have adopted more foreign-born children (150,000) than the citizens of any other country. Prominent among the developmental issues faced by these children is language delay, which can be compounded by medical problems, according to a Temple-led panel of experts who presented their findings at the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association meeting held recently in Philadelphia.

The panel, led by Rena Krakow, associate professor and assistant chair of communication sciences at the College of Health Professions, was composed of experts in linguistics, speech/language pathology and pediatrics, some of whom also had a personal interest in the topic as family members of internationally adopted (IA) children.

“Because most adoptive parents do not speak the language of their child’s home country, IA children typically experience an abrupt change in their language environment. This, coupled with a history of non-optimal care (most reside in orphanages before adoption), can increase the risk of language delays or disorders,” Krakow said. The level of risk depends on such factors as age at adoption, which usually correlates with time spent in an orphanage, quality of pre-adoption care and health status.

Krakow’s most recent study compared children adopted as infants with children adopted as toddlers, all from a single orphanage in China. The toddlers had both an advantage and a disadvantage in acquiring English. They learned faster than the younger children, but had more to learn to become age-appropriate. In general, the younger the child is when adopted and the shorter the time spent in an orphanage, the sooner the child is likely to become age-appropriate in English.

Although there was no evidence in Krakow’s study to suggest that the language switch from Chinese to English was a formidable obstacle for either the infants or the toddlers, some of the children in the study, as in others, did indeed experience problems.

“An important aspect of our work is identifying those factors that lead to a range of performance by IA children in acquiring English, such that some excel relative to their native-born peers, and others struggle and need appropriate intervention,” Krakow said.

Krakow’s daughter inspired her interest in the language development of children from China.

“My daughter, who is now 5, was adopted at 8 months [old], so she was very young when she came to the U.S.,” Krakow said.  “Still, she heard only Chinese for most of the first year of her life. The rapidity with which she acquired English amazed me. When we assessed her as a toddler, she was advanced for her age. We also tested her at preschool age [4 years old] on a formal battery of language tests. Again, her English language skills were excellent for her age. I was surprised by her success and speed in learning English and that prompted me to see how typical or atypical she was.”

Another panel member, Stephen C. Aronoff, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, specializes in infectious diseases and sees many internationally adopted children at Temple Children’s Medical Center.

“Some of the medical issues facing internationally adopted children clearly have implications for language learning, primarily tuberculosis and hepatitis. Early intervention and a multidisciplinary approach are required,” Aronoff said.

In addition to the Temple members, other panel members include Jenny Roberts, Hofstra University; Karen Pollock, University of Alberta–Edmonton; and Sharon Glennen, Towson niversity.

Most of the previously reported studies on this topic have looked at children as infants, toddlers and preschoolers. This panel also discussed new data concerning the performance of school-age children from China (J. Roberts) and Eastern Europe (S. Glennen). The panel aimed to inform clinicians at the conference about the range of performance found with internationally adopted children, the factors that contribute to variation in this group, and how to determine which children should receive services to assist in English-language development.

The session, “Internationally Adopted Children: Triumph and Challenge,” was one of more than 1,500 at the ASHA’s annual convention. More than 12,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists and researchers convened to present new research and discuss treatment of communication disorders.

- By Eryn Jelesiewicz

Other Temple presentations at ASHA conference

Aquiles Iglesias, professor of communication sciences and dean of the Graduate School, participated in the seminar “New research tools for language sample analysis.”

Communication sciences doctoral student Kathleen Scott presented “Screening high-risk children using two language screening measures,” as well as “An item analysis of the DELV administered to at-risk children” with Barbara Mastriano, associate professor and chair of communication sciences, and Jenny Roberts, former Temple communication sciences assistant professor.

Nadine Martin, professor of communication sciences, participated in the seminar “Working memory, control processes, and word learning in acquired aphasia.”

Brian Goldstein, associate professor of communication sciences, participated in the seminar “Methodological considerations in measuring phonological skills in bilingual children.” Goldstein also presented “Phonological cross-linguistic influence in sequential bilingual Spanish-English speaking children” and “Phonological representations in sequential and simultaneous bilingual Spanish-English speaking children” with communication sciences doctoral student Leah Fabiano; and “Phonological features of the MacArthur-CDI Spanish” with communication sciences undergraduate student Lindsay Robidoux Evans and faculty from Hofstra University and the University of Washington.

- By Tory Harris

 

 

 


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