According to the U.S. Department of State, approximately 11,059 children were adopted internationally in 2010. Over 88% of these children were likely raised in an orphanage prior to their adoption (Johnson & Dole, 1999). Research has well-documented that children raised in orphanage care are at a high risk for language and developmental delays (Johnson, 2000). For expecting parents, this may sound overwhelming and even intimidating. However, research also says that adoption can often counteract the effects of orphanage care. Understanding what the research says can be a liberating guide for parents as they support their child through the adoption process. Knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and empower parents to plan and prepare with confidence.
What Language Skills Can Adopting Parents Expect?
- Children who have spent time in orphanage care often show delayed language skills. It’s important to know that delays are not just in the new language, but in their birth language as well. These children may vocalize or babble less frequently, have limited vocabulary and use of phrases or sentences, show difficulty understanding spoken language, and have poor speech clarity.
- Most children raised in orphanage care have strong non-verbal social interaction skills. This includes skills such as making eye-contact, using facial expressions, smiling at others, showing toys to adults, pointed to or reaching for desired toys, and pushing items away that they don’t want.
- In most cases, language delays are a direct result of limited one-on-one interactions with adults while in orphanage care. As children learn to speak, their sounds and words are reinforced by caregivers who model, respond and encourage language. Without this individualized care, children’s communicative attempts become stalled. Even in caring and well-equipped environments, less available adults per child will likely result in language delays.
- It’s important to keep in mind that there are always exceptions. While most language delays are a result of limited interaction with caregivers, some children might have underlying developmental disorders that are not a result of a orphanage care. It’s important to seek guidance from a licensed speech-language pathologist to determine if your child needs intervention.
- After adoption, children will likely loose their birth language quickly (unless their adoptive parents speak their native language). The child’s birth language is likely to be lost before their new language is fully acquired. During this period of time when language is temporarily arrested, a child might feel more frustrated when they can’t communicate effectively.
- After adoption, children will quickly begin to acquire their new language. In fact, research suggests that children adopted under the age of 2, often develop language skills that are within normal limits one year after adoption (Glennen, 2007). Skills will continue to progress after the first year, although, the majority of language acquisition occurs during the initial year following adoption.
How Can Parents Help Their Child Develop Language Skills?
One of the most effective ways to counteract the effects of orphanage care is adoption. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping their child develop communication skills. Create a language-rich environment for your child, and enjoy one-on-one time together. Here are specific ways to promote speech and language development in your toddler:
- Play with your child! Come down to their level, and sit face-to-face while you play. Model, encourage and reinforce their communication while you play.
- Encourage your child to imitate your actions, gestures and sounds. Make animal sounds or environmental noises (e.g. beep beep, moo moo, etc) or sing songs with gestures (e.g. Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc).
- Label various objects and actions. Describe objects or actions in the environment, or read picture books while pointing to different pictures.
- Narrate what is happening in the environment. Use simple language to describe what you see or what people are doing (e.g. Bear is sleeping! Mommy is jumping!).
- Play turn-taking games, such as passing a ball a ball back and forth or sharing a toy.
- Reinforce your child’s communicative attempts by responding to and repeating what they say.
For more tips to encourage language development in toddlers, visit the blog “Encouraging Your Infant to Communicate“.