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Understanding the risks of social pragmatic deficits in post institutionalized internationally adopted (IA) children.

Image may contain: 1 person, textThis article was originally published in December 24, 2012 issue of Advance for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists under the title: “Adoption & Pragmatic Problems” (pp 6-9) 

Photo credits: Leonid Khavin

Cover Model: Bella Critelli

According to U.S. State Department, 233,934 children were adopted internationally between 1999-2011, with a majority 76 percent (or approximately 177,316) of these children being under 3 years of age.

To date a number of studies have come out about various aspects of these children’s language development, including but not limited to, rate of new language acquisition, patterns of typical vs. atypical language acquisition, as well as long-term language outcomes post-institutionalization.

While significant variability was found with respect to language gains and outcomes of internationally adopted children, a number of researchers found a correlation between age of adoption and language outcomes, namely, children adopted at younger ages (under 3 years of age) seem to present with better language/academic outcomes in the long-term vs. children adopted at older ages.1,2,3,4

Indeed, it certainly stands to reason that the less time children spend in an institutional environment, the better off they are in all areas of functioning (cognitive, emotional, linguistic, social, etc.). The longer the child stays in an institutional environment, the greater is the risk of greater delays, including a speech and language delay.

However, children adopted at younger ages, may also present with significant delays in select areas of functioning, many years post-adoption. Continue reading Understanding the risks of social pragmatic deficits in post institutionalized internationally adopted (IA) children.

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Adventures in Word-Finding or is Their Language Comprehension Really THAT Bad?

This summer I am taking an on-line course on word-finding with Dr. Diane German, and I must say, in addition to all the valuable information I have learned so far, this course has given me a brand new outlook on how to judge the language comprehension abilities of my clients with word finding difficulties.  It all started with a simple task, to determine the language comprehension abilities of my client with word finding deficits.  Based on available evidence I’ve collected over the period of time I’ve been working with him, I had determined that his comprehension was moderately impaired. I was then asked by Dr. German what language tasks I had used to make that determination?  She also pointed out that many of the formal language comprehension tasks I’ve listed in my report required an oral response.

That question really got me thinking. The truth of the matter is that many formal tests and informal assessments that probe language comprehension abilities rely on learners oral responses. But as it had been pointed out to me, what of our clients with impaired oral skills or significant word retrieval deficits? Most of the time we judge their language comprehension based on the quality of the oral responses they produce, and if their answers are not to our satisfaction, we make sweeping judgments regarding their comprehension abilities, which as Dr. German rightfully pointed out “is the kiss of death” for learners with word finding difficulties and could potentially result in “a spiral of failure”.

Now, in the case of this particular client in question, his language comprehension abilities were truly moderately impaired. I knew that because I tested him by showing him pictures of situations and asked him questions, which did not rely on oral responses but on him selecting the correct answer from a series of pictures and written sentences.

However, had I not performed the above tasks and simply relied on the “language comprehension” subtests from popular standardized tests alone, I would not have had a defensible answer and would have had to admit that I had no clue whether his language comprehension was truly as impaired as I had described.

Following that discussion I decided to take a “fresh look” at the other expressively impaired clients on my caseload but first I needed to figure out which tasks truly assessed my clients’ language comprehension abilities. I didn’t just want to assess their listening skills and vocabulary knowledge (some of the more “easily” assessed non-verbal skills). I wanted to know whether their memory, problem solving skills, figurative language, perspective taking abilities or knowledge of multiple meaning words were actually better than I had originally judged.

Thus, I set out to compile language comprehension materials (formal or informal), which could be used to assess various aspects of language comprehension (multiple meaning words, problem solving abilities, etc) without relying on the child’s ability to produce verbal responses.  However, this task turned out to be far more difficult than I had originally anticipated. For example, when I took a closer look at one of the more popular standardized tests available to me, such as the CELF-4, I realized that there were only two subtests on the first record form 5-8 years (“Concepts and Following Directions” and “Sentence Structure”) and 3 subtests on the second form 9-21 years (“Concepts & Following Directions”, “Sentence Assembly”, and “Semantic Relationships”) that relied on the listener’s ability to point to pictures or use written visuals to answer questions. Moreover, two of the subtests on the second record form (Sentence Assembly”, and “Semantic Relationships”) still required verbal responses.  All other subtests testing “listening comprehension abilities” relied purely on oral responses for correct score determination.

As I reviewed other popular tests (TOLD, CASL, OWLS, etc) I quickly realized that few of these tests’ subtests actually satisfied the above requirement.  Moreover, tests that actually did considerably rely on nonverbal responses (e.g., pointing) such as the Test for Auditory Comprehension of Language-3 (TACL-3) or the Test of Language Competence- Expanded Ed (TLC-Expanded Ed), were unfortunately not accessible to me at my place of work (although I did manage briefly to borrow both tests to assess some clients).

So, I decided to adapt some of the existing tests as well as create a few of my own materials to target language comprehension abilities in various areas.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I imagined it to be, though some tasks did require more creativity than others.

The easiest of course were the assessment of receptive vocabulary for nouns, verbs, and adjectives which was accomplished via standardized testing and story comprehension for which I created picture answers for the younger children and written multiple choice responses for the older children. Assessment of synonyms and antonyms was also doable. I again printed out the relevant pictures and then presented them students.  For example, to assess synonym knowledge the student was shown a relevant picture and asked to match it with another similar meaning word:  “show me another word for “trail” (requires the student to point to a picture depicting “path”) or “show me another word for “flame” (requires the student to point to a picture depicting “fire”). For recognition of antonyms, the student was presented with pictures of both synonyms and antonyms and told: “show me the opposite of child” or “show me the opposite of happy” and so on.

To assess the student’s understanding of “Multiple Meanings” I borrowed the sentences from the Language Processing Test-3 Elementary (LPT-3E), and printed out a few pictures from the internet. So instead of asking the student to explain what “Rose” means in the following sentences:  “Ask Rose to call me”, or “The sun rose over the mountains”, I asked the student to select and point to a corresponding picture from a group of visually related multiple meaning items.  For some children, I also increased the complexity by presenting to them pictures which required attention to details in order to answer the question correctly (e.g., differentiating between boy and girl for the first picture or between actual sunrise and sun peeking through the clouds for the second picture).   Similarly, to assess their problem solving abilities I again printed out pictures to go with select verbal reasoning questions: “Point to what you would do if …”; “Point to how you would solve the following situation…?”

I do have to admit that one of the more challenging subtests to adapt was the “Recalling Sentences” task.  For that I ended up creating similar sounding sentences and asked the child to select the appropriate response given visual multiple choice answers (e.g., point to which sentence did I just say? “The tractor was followed by the bus?” “The bus was followed by the tractor?” “The tractor was followed by the bicycle.”

Again, the point of this exercise was not to prove that the learners’ comprehension skills were indeed impaired but rather to assess whether their comprehension was as significantly impaired as was originally judged. Well the truth of the matter was that most of the children I’ve reassessed using the “pure” auditory comprehension tasks ended up doing much better on these tasks than on those which required verbal responses.

To illustrate, here is a recent case example. I was working with one student on strengthening his knowledge of geography related core vocabulary words (names of the continents and the major bodies of water surrounding them).  This boy had profound difficulty recalling the words even with maximal phonemic cues, after multiple sessions of drill instruction.   Typically after he was shown a specific continent and asked to name it he produced a semantically related response (“South America” for “North America”, “Arctic” for “Antarctica”, etc), which appeared to indicate that his “knowledge” of the words was impaired or at least highly inconsistent.  However, when the verbal naming task was completely eliminated and he was asked to show the examiner specifically named continents and bodies of water on a map (e.g., “Show me Europe”; “Show me Atlantic Ocean”, etc) he was able to do so with 90% accuracy over 3 trials indicating that he did have fairly solid knowledge of where each continent was located visually on a map.

Consequently, as Dr. German has rightly pointed out, when making judgment calls regarding language comprehension abilities of complex clients with severe or at least fairly involved expressive language difficulties, it is very important that SLP’s use tasks that require non verbal responses to questions (e.g., pointing, selecting a picture out of a group, etc), in order not to underestimate these children’s “true” comprehension abilities.

References and Resources:

German, D. J. (2009, Feb. 10). Child Word Finding: Student Voices Enlighten Us. The ASHA Leader, 14 (2), 10-13.

German, D.J. (2005) Word-Finding Intervention Program, Second Edition (WFIP-2)  Austin Texas: Pro.Ed

German, D.J. (2001) It’s on the Tip of My Tongue, Word Finding Strategies to Remember Names and Words You Often Forget.  Word Finding Materials, Inc.

Dr. German’s Word Finding Website: http://www.wordfinding.com/

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Multicultural Considerations in Assessment of Play

As speech language pathologist part of my job is to play! Since play assessment is a routine part of speech language evaluations for preschool and early school-aged children, I often find myself on the carpet in my office racing cars, making sure that all the “Little People” get their turn on the toy Ferris Wheel, and “cooking” elaborate  meals in complete absence of electrical appliances.  In fact, I’ve heard the phrase “I want toy” so many times that I actually began to worry that I might accidentally use it in polite company myself.

The benefits of play are well known and cataloged. Play allows children to use creativity and develop imagination. It facilitates cognition, physical and emotional development, language, and literacy.  Play is great!  However, not every culture values play as much as the Westerners do.

Cultural values affect how children play. Thus play interactions vary significantly across cultures. For instance, many Asian cultures prize education over play, so in these cultures children may engage in educational play activities vs. pretend play activities. To illustrate, Farver and colleagues have found that Korean preschool children engaged in greater parallel play (vs. pretend play), initiated play less frequently, as well as had less frequent social play episodes in contrast to Anglo-American peers. (Farver, Kim & Lee, 1995; Farver and Shinn 1997)

To continue, cultures focused on individualism stress independence and self-reliance.  In such cultures, babies and toddlers are taught to be self sufficient when it comes to sleeping, feeding, dressing, grooming and playing from a very early age. (Schulze, Harwood, and Schoelmerich, 2001) Consequently, in these cultures parents would generally support and encourage child initiated and directed play. However, in many Latin American cultures, parents expect their children to master self-care abilities and function independently at later ages.  Play in these cultures may be more parent directed vs. child directed.   These children may receive more explicit directives from their caregivers with respect to how to act and speak and be more physically positioned or restrained during play. (Harwood, Schoelmerich, & Schulze, 2000)

In Western culture, early choice making is praised and encouraged.  In contrast, traditional collective cultures encourage child obedience and respect over independence (Johnston & Wong, 2002).  Choice making may not be as encouraged since it might seem like it’s giving the child too much power.  It would not be uncommon for a child to be given a toy to play with which is deemed suitable for him/her, instead of being asked to choose.   The children in these cultures may not be encouraged to narrate on their actions during play but expected to play quietly with their toy.  Furthermore, if the parents do not consider play as an activity beneficial to their child’s cognitive and emotional development, but treat it as a leisure activity that helps pass the time, they may not ask the child questions regarding what he/she are doing and will not expect the child to narrate on their actions during play.

Consequently, in our assessments, it is very important to keep in mind that children’s play is affected by a number of variables including: cultural values, family relationships, child rearing practices, toy familiarity as well as developmental expectations (Hwa-Froelich, 2004).  As such, in order to conduct balanced and objective play assessments, we as clinicians need to find a few moments in our busy schedules to interview the caregivers regarding their views on child rearing practices and play interactions, so we could objectively interpret our assessment findings (e.g.,  is it delay/disorder or lack of  exposure and task unfamiliarity).

References:

  •  Farver, J. M., Kim, Y. K., & Lee, Y. (1995). Cultural differences in Korean- and Anglo-American preschoolers’ social interaction and play behaviors. Child Development, 66, 1088- 1099.
  • Farver, J. M., & Shinn, Y. L. (1997). Social pretend play in Korean- and Anglo- American pre-schoolers. Child Development,68 (3), 544-556.
  • Johnston, J.R., & Wong, M.-Y. A. (2002). Cultural differences in beliefs and practices concerning talk to children . Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45 (5), 916-926
  • Harwood, R. L., & Schoelmerich, A and Schulze, P. A. (2000) Homogeneity and heterogeneity in cultural belief systems. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development 87,  41-57
  • Hwa-Froelich, D. A. (2004). Play Assessment for Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds. Perspectives on Language, Learning and Education and on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, 11(2), 6-10.
  • Hwa-Froelich, D. A., & Vigil, D. C. (2004). Three aspects of cultural influence on communication: A literature review. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 25(3),110-118.
  • Schulze, P. A., Harwood, R. L., & Schoelmerich, A. (2001). Feeding practices and expectations among middle-class Anglo and Puerto Rican mothers of 12-month-old infants. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(4), 397–406.
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Upcoming New Jersey Speech Language and Hearing Convention 2012 Presentations

Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP will be giving 2 presentations at the NJSHA 2012 Convention on April 19-20, 2012

1. Presentation Title:     Behavior Management Strategies for School Based Speech Language Pathologists

Time:                         Thursday, April 19                8:15 AM – 10:15 AM

Summary: In recent years more and more school based speech-language pathologists have to work with children who present with behavioral deficits in conjunction to speech-language delays/impairments. A significant portion of work with these children in therapy sessions involves successful management of inappropriate behaviors such as excessive inattention, hyperactivity, aggression, opposition/non-compliance and/or apathy, which interferes with successful objective completion and goal attainment. This workshop will explain what type of common challenging behaviors can manifest in children with select communication, psychiatric, and neurological disorders.  It will outline behavior management strategy hierarchy from most to least intrusive methods for students with differing levels of cognitive functioning (high-average IQ to varying levels of MR). It will list positive proactive behavior management strategies to: prevent inappropriate behaviors from occurring, increase students’ session participation as well as improve compliance and cooperation during therapy sessions.

2. Presentation Title:     Social Pragmatic Assessment of Children Diagnosed with Emotional/Psychiatric Disturbances in the Schools

Time:                         Thursday, April 19              10:45 AM – 12:45 PM

Summary:  The number of children who present with non-spectrum emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric disturbances (oppositional defiant disorder, reactive attachment disorder, mood disorder, etc) has been steadily increasing in recent years. Many of these children attend district schools and due to high incidence of communication issues associated with these conditions, speech language pathologists are frequently included on the team of professionals who treat them.   This workshop is aimed at increasing the participants knowledge regarding aspects of social pragmatic language.  —By the end of the workshop participants will be able to list common pediatric psychiatric diagnoses, explain the impact of psychiatric disturbances on language development of children, summarize the role of SLP in assessment of pragmatic language and social cognitive abilities of school-age children, as well as utilize formal and informal assessment instruments to assess pragmatic language and social cognitive abilities of school age children.

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Advance Magazine Online Article Publication

“The importance of thorough pediatric orofacial assessments in speech pathology: It’s not just for speech sounds anymore” will be published in the online edition of Advance for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists  on November 16, 2011.

Article Summary: This article explains the importance of documenting orofacial assessment findings for multidisciplinary referral and diagnosis purposes.  It offers several personal clinical case examples of atypical orofacial findings, which let to subsequent medical diagnosis of neurological and genetic disorders. It also explains why in some select circumstances, SLP’s may be the first professionals to observe/record atypical findings.

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Understanding the extent of speech and language delays in older internationally adopted children: Implications for School Based Speech and Language Intervention.

Understanding the extent of speech and language delays in older internationally adopted children: Implications for School Based Speech and Language Intervention.

Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP

 

Note: This article was first published in October 2011 Issue of Adoption Today Magazine (pp. 32-35) http://www.adoptinfo.net/catalog_g111.html?catId=55347

 According to US State Department statistics, over 11,000 children were adopted internationally in the year 2010, with 2,803 of those children being school-aged (between 5-17 years old). Despite a staggering 50% decline in overall inter-country adoptions in the last 10 years, statistics on adoption of older children continue to remain steady (appropriately 3,000 older children were adopted each year, for the past decade). (Retrieved from http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php Jul 29, 2011).

 Subsequent to the school aged child’s arrival to US, one of the first considerations that arises, secondary to health concerns and transitional adjustments, is the issue of schooling and appropriate school based services provision. In contrast to children adopted at younger ages, who typically have an opportunity to acquire some English language skills before an academic placement takes place, older international adoptees lack this luxury. Unfortunately, due to their unique linguistic status, many school districts are at a loss regarding best services options for these children.

 Despite the prevalence of available research on this subject, one myth that continues to persist is that older internationally adopted children are “bilingual” and as such should receive remedial services similar to those received by newly entering the country bilingual children (e.g., ESL classes).

 It is very important to understand that most internationally adopted children rapidly lose their birth language, sometimes in as little as several months post arrival (Gindis, 2005), since they are often adopted by parents who do not speak the child’s first language and as such are unable/unwilling to maintain it. Not only are these children not bilingual, they are also not ‘truly’ monolingual, since their first language is lost rather rapidly, while their second language has been gained minimally at the time of loss. Moreover, even during the transition period during which international adoptees are rapidly losing their native language, their birth language is still of no use to them, since it’s not functional in their monolingual, English speaking only, home and school environments. As a result of the above constraints, select researchers have referred to this pattern of language gain, as “second, first language acquisition” (e.g., Roberts, et al., 2005), since the child is acquiring his/her new language literally from scratch.

 This brings me to another myth, that given several years of immersion in a new language rich, home and school environments, most internationally adopted children with (mild) language delays will catch up to their non-adopted monolingual peers academically, without the benefit of any additional services.

 This concept requires clarification, since the majority of parents adopting older children, often have difficulty understanding the extent of their child’s speech and language abilities in their native language at the time of adoption, and the implications for new language transference.

 Research on speech language abilities of older internationally adopted children is still rather limited, despite available studies to date. Some studies (e.g., Glennen & Masters, 2002; Krakow & Roberts, 2003, etc) suggest that age of adoption is strongly correlated with language outcomes. In other words, older internationally adopted children are at risk of having poorer language outcomes than children adopted at younger ages. That is because the longer the child stays in an institutional environment the greater is the risk of a birth language delay. Children in institutional care frequently experience neglect, lack of language stimulation, lack of appropriate play experiences, lack of enriched community activities, as well as inadequate learning settings all of which have long lasting negative impact on their language development. It is also important to understand that language delays in birth language transfer and become language delays in a new language. These delays will typically continue to persist unless appropriate intervention, in the form of speech language services, is provided.

So what are the options available to parents adopting older school age children with respect to determination of their child’s speech and language abilities?

For starters, at the time of adoption, it is very important to gain as much information regarding their child’s birth language abilities (and academic abilities, when applicable) as possible. In many older children (3+ years of age), speech and language delays in birth language (e.g., sound and word mispronunciations, limited vocabulary, grammatical errors, inability to answer simple or abstract questions, short sentence length) can be easily determined based on orphanage staff interviews, observations, and/or review of documentation included in the adoption record. In the Russian Federation, for example, speech language pathologists are assigned to orphanages, so when working with older international adoptees from the Russian Federation, one often finds a short statement in adoption records stating that the child presented with a speech and language delay for which he was receiving services.

If possible, prior to adoption, parents may wish to explore the option of obtaining an independent comprehensive speech language evaluation of the child’s birth language abilities, while the child is still located in the birth country. The above may be significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will allow the parents to understand the extent of the child’s language delay in their birth tongue. Secondly, it will increase the parents’ chances of obtaining school based remediation services for their child once they arrive to US.

In the absence of qualified speech pathologists attached to the orphanage or conclusive interviews with medical professionals, paraprofessionals, and teachers (lack of availability, language barrier, time constraints, etc) regarding the child’s speech and language development, it will be very helpful for parents to videotape the child during speaking tasks. Most parents who request pre-adoption consultations are well familiar with videotaping, requested by various pre-adoption professionals (pediatricians, psychologists, etc) in order to review the child’s presenting appearance, fine and gross motor skills, behavior and social skills as well as other areas of functioning. Language video samples should focus on child’s engagement in literacy tasks such as reading a book aloud (if sufficiently literate), and on speaking activities such as telling a story, recalling an episode from daily life or a conversation with familiar person. In the absence of all other data, these samples can later be analyzed and interpreted in order to determine if speech language deficits are present. (Glennen, 2009)

Parents need to understand that internationally adopted children can often be denied special education services in the absence of appropriate documentation. Such denials are often based on misinterpretation of the current IDEA 2004 law. Some denials may be based on the fact that once these children arrive to US, it is very difficult to find a qualified speech language pathologist who can assess the child in their birth language, especially if it’s a less commonly spoken language such as Amharic, Kazakh, or Ukrainian. Additionally, schools may refuse to test internationally adopted children for several years post arrival, on the grounds that these children have yet to attain “adequate language abilities in English” and as such, the testing results will be biased/inadequate, since testing was not standardized on children with similar linguistic abilities. Furthermore, even if the school administers appropriate testing protocols and finds the child’s abilities impaired, testing results may still be dismissed as inaccurate due to the child’s perceived limited English exposure.

Contrastingly, a speech and language report in the child’s birth language will outline the nature and severity of disorder, and state that given the extent of the child’s deficits in his/her birth language, similar pattern will be experienced in English unless intervention is provided. According to one of the leading speech-language researchers, Sharon Glennen, “Any child with a known history of speech and language delays in the sending country should be considered to have true delays or disorders and should receive speech and language services after adoption.” (Glennen, 2009, p.52)

To continue, some options in locating a speech pathologist in the child’s birth country include consulting with the adoption agency or the local pediatrician, who is providing medical clearance for the child. However, it is very important that the speech language pathologist be licensed and reputable, as unqualified professionals will not be able to make appropriate diagnostic interpretations and suggestions, and may provide erroneous information to the parent.

If the parents are unable to obtain the relevant report in the child’s birth country, the next viable option is to obtain a comprehensive speech language assessment upon arrival to US, from a qualified professional who is well versed in both: the child’s native language as well as speech and language issues unique to assessment of internationally adopted children. Please note that the window of opportunity to assess the school age child in his/her native language is very narrow, as birth language attrition occurs within literally a matter of several months post adoption and is more rapid in children with delayed and disordered speech and language abilities (Gindis, 1999, 2005, 2008).

If the presence of a speech language delay has been confirmed (e.g., documented in adoption paperwork, interpreted through video samples, supported by a psycho-educational assessment, etc) the next step is to request the relevant speech language services for your child through the school system. Typically school administration will ask you to produce such a request in writing. One such letter template is available through the Post Adoption Learning Center (see link below). This template, complete with relevant references, can be modified to each child’s unique circumstances, and submitted along with supporting paperwork (e.g., speech-language, psycho-educational reports) and available video samples. In cases of services denials, an educational attorney specializing in educational policy relevant to international adoptions may need be consulted.

Once the child is qualified for appropriate speech language services in the school system it is also important to understand that language acquisition occurs in a progression, with social language (CLF) preceding cognitive language (CLM) (Gindis, 1999). Communicative Language Fluency (CLF) is language used in social situations for day-to-day social interactions. These skills are used to interact at home, on the playground, in the lunch room, on the school bus, at parties, playing sports and talking on the telephone. Social interactions are usually context embedded. Because they occur in meaningful social contexts they are typically not very demanding cognitively and the language required is not specialized. These language skills usually emerge in internationally adopted children as early as several months post adoption. Once these abilities emerge and solidify it is very important for speech language pathologists not to dismiss the child from services but to continue the treatment and focus it in the realm of cognitive/ academic language.

Cognitive Language Mastery (CLM) refers to language needed for formal academic learning. This includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area content material including analyzing, synthesizing, judging and evaluating presented information. This level of language learning is essential for a child to succeed in school. Language impaired children adopted at older ages need time and support to become develop cognitive language and become proficient in academic areas, an ability which usually takes a number of years to refine. Before discharging the child from therapy services it is very important that their cognitive/academic language abilities are assessed and are found within average limits.

Understanding the extent of speech language delay in internationally adopted older children AND factors pertaining to appropriate remediation are crucial for delivery of relevant (and meaningful to the child) speech language services as well as ensuring their continued academic success in school setting.

References:

• Gindis, B. (1999) Language-Related Issues for International Adoptees and Adoptive Families. In: T. Tepper, L. Hannon, D. Sandstrom, Eds. “International Adoption: Challenges and Opportunities.” PNPIC, Meadow Lands , PA. , pp. 98-108

• Gindis, B. (2005). Cognitive, language, and educational issues of children adopted from overseas orphanages. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 4 (3): 290-315.

• Gindis (2008) Abrupt Native Language Loss in International Adoptees Advance for Speech/Language Pathologists and Audiologists Dec 22.

• Glennen, S. & Masters, G. (2002). Typical and atypical language development in infants and toddlers adopted from Eastern Europe. American Journal of Speech-LanguagePathology, 44, 417-433

• Glennen, S., & Bright, B. J. (2005). Five years later: Language in school-age internationally adopted children. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26, 86-101.

• .Glennen, S (2009) Speech and Language Guidelines for Children Adopted from Abroad at Older Ages. Topics in language Disorders 29, 50-64.

• Intercountry Adoption Bureau of Consular Affairs US Department of State Retrieved on Jul 29, 2011 from http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php

• Krakow, R. A., & Roberts, J. (2003). Acquisitions of English vocabulary by young Chinese adoptees. Journal of Multilingual Communication Disorders, 1, 169-176.

• Muchnik, M. How to request speech/language services for your child. Retrieved on Aug 2, 2011 from http://www.bgcenterschool.org/FreePresentations/P8-Speech-language-support.shtml

• Roberts, et al, (2005). Language development in preschool-aged children adopted from China. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 48, 93-107.

Bio: Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP is a bilingual speech language pathologist with a full-time affiliation with University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and a private practice in Somerset, NJ. She received her Master’s Degree from New York University and her Bilingual Extension Certification from Columbia University. Currently she is licensed by the states of New Jersey and New York and holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence from American Speech Language and Hearing Association. She specializes in working with bilingual, multicultural, internationally and domestically adopted at risk children with complex medical, developmental, neurogenic, psychogenic, and acquired communication disorders. For more information about her services call 917-916-7487 or visit her website: www.smartspeechtherapy.com

Cite as: Elleseff, Tatyana (2011, October) Understanding the extent of speech and language delays in older internationally adopted children: Implications for School Based Speech and Language Intervention. Adoption Today.

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What are social pragmatic language deficits and how do they impact international adoptees years post adoption?

What are social pragmatic language deficits and how do they impact international adoptees years post adoption?

Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP

Scenario:   John is a bright 11 year old boy who was adopted at the age of 3 from Russia by American parents. John’s favorite subject is math, he is good at sports but his most dreaded class is language arts. John has trouble understanding abstract information or summarizing what he has seen, heard or read. John’s grades are steadily slipping and his reading comprehension is below grade level. He has trouble retelling stories and his answers often raise more questions due to being very confusing and difficult to follow. John has trouble maintaining friendships with kids his age, who consider him too immature and feel like he frequently “misses the point” due to his inability to appropriately join play activities and discussions, understand non-verbal body language, maintain conversations on age-level topics, or engage in perspective taking (understand other people’s ideas, feelings, and thoughts). John had not received speech language services immediately post adoption despite exhibiting a severe speech and language delay at the time of adoption. The parents were told that “he’ll catch up quickly”, and he did, or so it seemed, at the time. John is undeniably bright yet with each day he struggles just a little bit more with understanding those around him and getting his point across. John’s scores were within normal limits on typical speech and language tests administered at his school, so he did not qualify for school based speech language therapy. Yet John clearly needs help.

John’s case is by no means unique. Numerous adopted children begin to experience similar difficulties; years post adoption, despite seemingly appropriate early social and academic development. What has many parents bewildered is that often times these difficulties are not glaringly pronounced in the early grades, which leads to delayed referral and lack of appropriate intervention for prolonged period of time.

The name for John’s difficulty is pragmatic language impairment, a diagnosis that has been the subject of numerous research debates since it was originally proposed in 1983 by Rapin and Allen. 

So what is pragmatic language impairment and how exactly does it impact the child’s social and academic language abilities? 

In 1983, Rapin and Allen proposed a classification of children with developmental language disorders. As part of this classification they described a syndrome of language impairment which they termed ‘semantic–pragmatic deficit syndrome’. Children with this disorder were described as being overly verbose, having poor turn–taking skills, poor discourse and narrative skills as well as having difficulty with topic initiation, maintenance and termination. Over the years the diagnostic label for this disorder has changed several times, until it received its current name “pragmatic language impairment” (Bishop, 2000).

Pragmatic language ability involves the ability to appropriately use language (e.g., persuade, request, inform, reject), change language (e.g., talk differently to different audiences, provide background information to unfamiliar listeners, speak differently in different settings, etc) as well as follow conversational rules (e.g., take turns, introduce topics, rephrase sentences, maintain appropriate physical distance during conversational exchanges, use facial expressions and eye contact, etc) all of which culminate into the child’s general ability to appropriately interact with others in a variety of settings.

For most typically developing children, the above comes naturally. However, for children with pragmatic language impairment appropriate social interactions are not easy. Children with pragmatic language impairment often misinterpret social cues, make inappropriate or off-topic comments during conversations, tell stories in a disorganized way, have trouble socially interacting with peers, have difficulty making and keeping friends, have difficulty understanding why they are being rejected by peers, and are at increased risk for bullying.

So why do adopted children experience social pragmatic language deficits many years post adoption? 

Well for one, many internationally adopted children are at high risk for developmental delay because of their exposure to institutional environments. Children in institutional care often experience neglect, lack of language stimulation, lack of appropriate play experiences, lack of enriched community activities, as well as inadequate learning settings all of which has long lasting negative impact on their language development including the development of their pragmatic language skills (especially if they are over 3 years of age). Furthermore, other, often unknown, predisposing factors such as medical, genetic, and family history can also play a negative role in pragmatic language development, since at the time of adoption very little information is known about the child’s birth parents or maternal prenatal care.

Difficulty with detection as well as mistaken diagnoses of pragmatic language impairment 

Whereas detecting difficulties with language content and form is relatively straightforward, pragmatic language deficits are more difficult to detect, because pragmatics are dependent on specific contexts and implicit rules. While many children with pragmatic language impairment will present with poor reading comprehension, low vocabulary, and grammar errors (pronoun reversal, tense confusion) in addition to the already described deficits, not all the children with pragmatic language impairment will manifest the above signs. Moreover, while pragmatic language impairment is diagnosed as one of the primary difficulties in children on autistic spectrum, it can manifest on its own without the diagnosis of autism. Furthermore, due to its complicated constellation of symptoms as well as frequent coexistence with other disorders, pragmatic language impairment as a standalone diagnosis is often difficult to establish without the multidisciplinary team involvement (e.g., to rule out associated psychiatric and neurological impairment).

It is also not uncommon for pragmatic language deficits to manifest in children as challenging behaviors (and in severe cases be misdiagnosed due to the fact that internationally adopted children are at increased risk for psychiatric disorders in childhood, adolescence and adulthood). Parents and teachers often complain that these children tend to “ignore” presented directions, follow their own agenda, and frequently “act out inappropriately”. Unfortunately, since children with pragmatic language impairment rely on literal communication, they tend to understand and carry out concrete instructions and tasks versus understanding indirect requests which contain abstract information. Additionally, since perspective taking abilities are undeveloped in these children, they often fail to understand and as a result ignore or disregard other people’s feelings, ideas, and thoughts, which may further contribute to parents’ and teachers’ beliefs that they are deliberately misbehaving.

Due to difficulties with detection, pragmatic language deficits can persist undetected for several years until they are appropriately diagnosed. What may further complicate detection is that a certain number of children with pragmatic language deficits will perform within the normal range on typical speech and language testing. As a result, unless a specific battery of speech language tests is administered that explicitly targets the identification of pragmatic language deficits, some of these children may be denied speech and language services on the grounds that their total language testing score was too high to qualify them for intervention.

How to initiate an appropriate referral process if you suspect that your school age child has pragmatic language deficits? 

When a child is presenting with a number of above described symptoms, it is recommended that a medical professional such as a neurologist or a psychologist be consulted in order to rule out other more serious diagnoses. Then, the speech language pathologist can perform testing in order to confirm the presence of pragmatic language impairment as well as determine whether any other linguistically based deficits coexist with it. Furthermore, even in cases when the pragmatic language impairment is a secondary diagnosis (e.g. Autism) the speech language pathologist will still need to be involved in order to appropriately address the social linguistic component of this deficit.

To obtain appropriate speech and language testing in a school setting, the first step that parents can take is to consult with the classroom teacher. For the school age child (including preschool and kindergarten) the classroom teacher can be the best parental ally. After all both parents and teachers know the children quite well and can therefore take into account their behavior and functioning in a variety of social and academic contexts. Once the list of difficulties and inappropriate behaviors has been compiled, and both parties agree that the “red flags” merit further attention, the next step is to involve the school speech language pathologist (make a referral) to confirm the presence and/or severity of the impairment via speech language testing.

When attempting to confirm/rule out pragmatic language impairment, the speech language pathologist has the option of using a combination of formal and informal assessments including parental questionnaires, discourse and narrative analyses as well as observation checklists.

Below is the list of select formal and informal speech language assessment instruments which are sensitive to detection of pragmatic language impairment in children as young as 4-5 years of age.

1. Children’s Communication Checklist-2 (CCC–2) (Available: Pearson Publication)
2. Test of Narrative Development (TNL) (Available: Linguisystems Publication)
3. Test of Language Competence Expanded Edition (TLC-E) (Available: Pearson Publication)
4. Test of Pragmatic Language-2 (TOPL-2) (Available: Linguisystems Publication)
5. Social Emotional Evaluation (SEE) (Available: Super Duper Publication)
6. Dynamic Informal Social Thinking Assessment (www.socialthinking.com)
7. Social Language Development Test -Elementary (SLDT-E) (Available: Linguisystems Publication)
8. Social Language Development Test -Adolescent (SLDT-A) (Available: Linguisystems Publication)

It is also very important to note that several formal and informal instruments and analyses need to be administered/performed in order to create a complete diagnostic picture of the child’s deficits.

When to seek private pragmatic language evaluation and therapy services?

Unfortunately, the process of obtaining appropriate social pragmatic assessment in a school setting is often fraught with numerous difficulties. For one, due to financial constraints, not all school districts possess the appropriate, up to date pragmatic language testing instruments.

Another issue is the lack of time. To administer comprehensive assessment which involves 2-3 different assessment instruments, an adequate amount of time (e.g., 2+ hours) is needed in order to create the most comprehensive pragmatic profile for the child. School based speech language pathologists often lack this valuable commodity due to increased case load size (often seeing between 45 to 60 students per week), which leaves them with very limited time for testing.

Further complicating the issue are the special education qualification rules, which are different not just from state to state but in some cases from one school district to the next within the same state. Some school districts strictly stipulate that the child’s performance on testing must be 1.5-2 standard deviations below the normal limits in order to qualify for therapy services.
But what if the therapist is not in possession of any formal assessment instruments and can only do informal assessment?

And what happens to the child who is “not impaired enough” (e.g., 1 SD vs. 1.5 SD)?

Consequently, in recent years more and more parents are opting for private pragmatic language assessments and therapy for their children.

Certainly, there are numerous advantages for going via the private route. For one, parents are directly involved and directly influence the quality of care their children receive.

One advantage to private therapy is that parents can request to be present during the evaluation and therapy sessions. As such, not only do the parents get to understand the extent of the child’s impairment but they also learn valuable techniques and strategies they can utilize in home setting to facilitate carryover and skill generalization (how to ask questions, provide choices, etc).

Another advantage is the provision of individual therapy services in contrast to school based services which are generally attended by groups as large as 4-5 children per session. Here, some might disagree and state that isn’t the point of pragmatic therapy is for the child to practice his/her social skills with other children?

Absolutely! However, before a skill can be generalized it needs to be taught! Most children with pragmatic language impairment initially require individual sessions, in some of which it may be necessary to use drill work to teach a specific skill. Once the necessary skills are taught, only then can children be placed into social groups where they can practice generalizing their skills. Moreover, many of these children greatly benefit from being in group or play settings with typical peers and/or sibling tutors who may facilitate the generalization of the desired skill more naturally, all of which can be arranged within private therapy settings.

Yet another advantage to obtaining private therapy services is that there are some private clinics which are almost exclusively devoted to teaching social pragmatic communication and which offer a variety of therapeutic services including individual therapy, group therapy and even summer camps that target the improvement of pragmatic language and social communication skills.

The flexibility offered by private therapy is also important if a parent is seeking a specific social skills curriculum for their child (e.g., “Socially Speaking”) or if they are interested in social skill training that is based on the methods of specific researchers/authors (e.g., Michelle Garcia Winner MACCC-SLP; Dr. Jed Baker PhD, etc), which may not be offered by their child’s school.

There are many routes open for parents to pursue when it comes to their child’s pragmatic language assessment and intervention. However, the first step in that process is parental education!

To learn more about pragmatic language impairment please visit the ASHA website at www.asha.org and type in your query in the search window located in the upper right corner of the website. To find a professional specializing in assessment and treatment of pragmatic language disorders in your area please visit http://asha.org/proserv/.

References

Adams, C. (2001). “Clinical diagnostic and intervention studies of children with semantic-pragmatic language disorder.” International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 36(3): 289-305.

Bishop, D. V. (1989). “Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and semantic-pragmatic disorder: Where are the boundaries?” British Journal of Disorders of Communication 24(2): 107-121.

Bishop, D. V. M. and G. Baird (2001). “Parent and teacher report of pragmatic aspects of communication: Use of the Children’s Communication Checklist in a clinical setting.” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 43(12): 809-818.

Botting, N., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (1999). Pragmatic language impairment without autism: The children in question. Autism, 3, 371–396.[

Brackenbury, T., & Pye, C. (2005). Semantic deficits in children with language impairments: Issues for clinical assessment. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 5–16.

Burgess, S., & Turkstra, L. S. (2006). Social skills intervention for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the experimental evidence. EBP Briefs, 1(4), 1–21.

Camarata, S., M., and T. Gibson (1999). “Pragmatic Language Deficits in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities 5: 207-214.

Ketelaars, M. P., Cuperus, J. M., Jansonius, K., & Verhoeven, L. (2009). Pragmatic language impairment and associated behavioural problems. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 45, 204–214.

Ketelaars, M. P., Cuperus, J. M., Van Daal, J., Jansonius, K., & Verhoeven, L. (2009). Screening for pragmatic language impairment: The potential of the Children’s Communication Checklist. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30, 952–960.

Miniscalco, C., Hagberg, B., Kadesjö, B., Westerlund, M., & Gillberg, C. (2007). Narrative skills, cognitive profiles and neuropsychiatric disorders in 7-8-year-old children with late developing language. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 42, 665–681.
Rapin I, Allen D (1983). Developmental language disorders: Nosologic considerations. In U. Kirk (Ed.), Neuropsychology of language, reading, and spelling (pp. 155–184). : Academic Press.

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A case for early speech-language assessments of adopted children in the child’s birth language.

A case for early speech-language assessments of adopted children in the child’s birth language.

Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP

As more and more research is being published on communication, linguistic abilities, as well as speech and language delay of adopted children, a debate has arisen with regard to the necessity of early assessment of speech and language abilities of newly adopted children. Many medical and related professionals have posed a relevant question: “What is the purpose of performing a speech-language evaluation immediately after arriving in the U.S.?” After all how can you perform an evaluation in English when the child has minimal knowledge of English at the time of arrival? And what about speech and language evaluation conducted in the birth language post arrival? Will it yield any definitive or predictive results given that within a relatively short period (2-6 months depending on which study you look at) the child would have lost the birth language and rapidly gained English? And honestly, can one really translate or adapt a test standardized on English speaking children to the child’s birth language (e.g., Russian) with any hope of reliable results?

The truth is that one definitive answer simply does not exist. It would be erroneous to state that ‘yes’ all newly adopted children need to be assessed within the first week of US arrival or “no” you can wait until the child has been in the country for several months before a reliable assessment can be performed. Here, I think that an individualized and educated approach is necessary in order to determine whether an early speech–language assessment may be appropriate for your newly adopted child.

In order to better explain my position on this issue, I must mention something of my own background and how it affects my approach to speech and language assessments. I am a bilingual, Russian-English, speaking speech language therapist, and I specialize in assessing children adopted from Eastern Europe (vs. South America or China, etc).

I am also in a rather unique position because all internationally adopted children that I’ve evaluated to date have traditionally been referred to me by a medical or a related professional (pediatrician or psychologist vs. a parent who’s contacted me without a specific referral) who felt that the child needed to be seen because of a specific speech or language deficit that was manifesting rather overtly (e.g., significant speech or language delay in birth language).

Since such referrals are frequently made within the child’s first 2 weeks of being in US (e.g., immediately following a visit to the pediatrician), I typically perform the initial speech and language assessment in Russian, using recently published Russian speech language pathology materials, which though are non-standardized (in Russia standardized speech and language protocols haven’t been developed yet) are still more reliable than the standardized tests translated from English. Here, my window of opportunity to assess the child in his/her native language is very narrow, as birth language attrition occurs very rapidly post adoption.

So what do these early speech and language assessments in the child’s birth language reveal to me?

Well, quite a lot actually!

Let’s start by age range:

First let’s talk about children ages 0-3.

Depending on a country, the youngest age children become available for adoption is 7-9 months and depending on length and complexity of the adoption process, may become legally adopted by 12 months of age or older. My first concern with this group (+/-1 – 3 years) is the child’s feeding and swallowing abilities. Difficulties may range from immature feeding skills (e.g., immature chewing abilities) to a more severe failure to thrive, to even structural or functional deviations of the swallow mechanism, which may require detailed imaging tests and subsequent dysphagia therapy. In some rare instances, more serious discoveries were made during those initial speech and language assessments such as presence of vocal webs and submucous clefts, conditions which actually required surgical intervention.

Another concern with this age range are the child’s speech and language abilities or I should say lack of thereof. In the case of younger children (15-18 months), the “red flag” is a complete absence of words, jargon, babbling or general lack of any sound production during both – their early development and the parent bonding pre-adoption period during which the parents intensively interact and communicate with the child. In older children (2.5-3 years of age) the “red flag” is the general absence of phrases and/or words in their birth language, which is a strong indication that assessment is merited.

Finally, with this age group, any form of abnormal social interaction should be thoroughly investigated. Many children who have resided in very deprived institutional environments may present with a pattern of autistic-type behaviors. In reaction to emotional trauma, loss of primary caregiver, isolation in hospital cribs, and lack of stimulation, some children may develop symptoms often found in autistic children and may exhibit limited communicative intent in the absence of speech (make limited gestures, vocalizations, eye contact, etc). As a result, an early speech and language assessment in conjunction with other testing (neurological, psychological, etc) may shed light on whether the child presents with a form of institutional autism or true autistic spectrum behavior.

Unfortunately, internationally adopted children are at high risk for developmental delay because of their exposure to institutional environments. Knowing the above, oftentimes it is important to determine a degree of delay (severe vs. mild), and if it’s not that clear (especially if the child is under 3 years of age and the parents don’t speak the child’s birth language or are not familiar with typical developmental milestones) than a safer choice would be an initial speech and language assessment in the child’s birth language which can determine the type and degree of delay and make recommendations regarding the necessity of further services.

It is also important to highlight that a child’s mastery of the birth language is a good predictor of the rate of learning the new language. Many professionals make an error of assuming that internationally adopted infants and toddlers will not be affected by cross-linguistic interference because the children have just begun to learn the birth language at the time of adoption, before the attrition of birth language occurred. However, due to a complex constellation of factors, language delays in birth language transfer and become language delays in a new language. These delays will typically persist unless appropriate intervention is provided. For older children (3 years +), the delays will be very recognizable and will likely be part of the child’s adoption record but for younger children an early speech and language assessment may be the first step on the way to appropriate language remediation.

Now let’s talk about older children. In our second group, the age range at the time of adoption will range from 3-16 years (although it is important to note that most adopted older children will be in the range of 3-12 years, while adoption of children 12+ is somewhat less common).

Here, most speech and language delays will be more acutely pronounced and as a result far more recognizable. As mentioned above they will also probably be clearly documented in the child’s adoption records. With this age-range there are a number of concerns ranging from poor articulation to language delay to social pragmatic communication impairments.

So how do professionals and parents decide which child merits early assessment?
With regard to articulation, it’s important to keep in mind that if the child is limitedly intelligible in their birth language, they will continue making similar error patterns in English unless they receive appropriate intervention. So assessment is definitely merited.

Similarly, if at the time of adoption, a preschool or school age child presents with delayed language abilities in their birth tongue (e.g., inability to answer “wh” questions, speaking in phrases vs. sentences, etc) then no matter how quickly they will gain basic English proficiency, it is reasonable to expect that similar difficulty will be encountered in English with respect to academically based tasks. In other words they may gain basic skills fairly appropriately but then present with significant deficits acquiring higher level listening and speaking abilities required for long-term academic success.

Another reason why it’s important to assess a child in the birth language in the first few weeks post arrival has to do with their pragmatic language skills or the appropriate use of language. Pragmatic language ability is the ability to appropriately initiate conversations, maintain and terminate topics, appropriately narrate stories, understand jokes and sarcasm, interpret non-verbal body cues, all of which culminate into the child’s general ability to appropriately interact with others in a variety of social settings.

As mentioned above, many children who have resided in deprived institutional environments may present with a pattern of unusual social behaviors, be socially withdrawn, or present with poor ability to socialize with others. Thus, the longer is the period of time the child spends in the institutional environment the greater is the risk of social pragmatic deficits. Unfortunately, this important area of language often receives merely cursory attention.

To illustrate, in recent years I have assessed a number of adopted children, who were 5-7 years post adoption, and had never previously received any speech and language services. Once brought to US they quickly gained English language proficiency and did not seemingly present with any of the “red flags” described above.

The reason these children were referred for intervention so many years later was because “seemingly overnight” they developed numerous difficulties. Oh, they were still getting good grades and presented with adequate vocabulary skills. But both parents and educators were getting concerned that these children were acting very immature for their age, had problems socializing with other children, presented with difficulty understanding figurative language, could not understand non-verbal conversational and social cues, couldn’t coherently express their thoughts, and presented with significant difficulty understanding and retelling stories.

Interestingly, when questioned further, all interviewed parents revealed that the above difficulties had existed from the get-go albeit in a milder form in their child but in the presence of appropriate receptive and expressive skills these difficulties were not deemed worthy of assessment/ intervention. Had these children received early assessment when these problems were first noticed, the outcome (degree of impairment; duration of therapy) might have been entirely different.

Up until now we have discussed the ‘red flags’ which indicate the necessity for early speech and language assessment and intervention of adopted children in their birth language. However, once these children are in therapy, many parents would also like to know if there are any specific predictors for successful language remediation and decreased duration of services?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to answer this question definitively due to the variability of each child’s progress as well as the type and degree of their impairment. Having said that, from my personal clinical experience, what I have found is that if the child has good problem solving abilities (as per non-verbal IQ testing and certain language reasoning tasks) and grossly appropriate social pragmatic language skills, even if the child presents with a moderate-severe speech and language impairment, he/she will generally fare better in treatment with respect to duration of service as well as therapy gains, versus the less severely impaired peers with poorer problem solving and social pragmatic skills.

So, do all newly adopted children require early speech language assessments? Not, at all. However, understanding the “red flags” for each age group will be helpful for both parents and professionals when they make their decision to refer a newly adopted child for a an early speech-language assessment.

As always, if parents or related professionals would like to find more information on this topic, they should visit the ASHA website at www.asha.org and type in their query in the search window located in the upper right corner of the website.