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“Appdapting” Flashcard Apps to Address Social Skills

I have to admit, I don’t really like flashcards. I especially don’t like it when parents or SLPs use flashcards to drill vocabulary in toddlers and preschoolers, much less school aged children. I feel that it produces very limited learnability and generalization. I am personally a proponent of thematic language learning, since it allows me to take a handful of words/concepts and reinforce them in a number of different ways. The clients still get the benefit of information repetition, much like one would get during a typical flashcard drill.  However, they are also getting much more.  Thematic language learning allows the client to increase word comprehension, make connections to real life scenarios,  develop abstract thinking skills, as well as to transfer and generalize knowledge (Morrow, Pressley, Smith, &  Smith, 1997; Ramey, 1995).

However, even though I dislike flashcards, I still don’t necessarily want to give up using them completely, especially because nowadays many different type of image based language flashcards can be found for free as both printables as well as Iphone/Ipad apps.  Consequently, I decided to pick a free flashcard app and adapt it or rather  “appdapt” it (coined by “The Speech Guy”, Jeremy Legaspi, the “Appdapt Guru”) in a meaningful and functional way for my students.

After looking over and rejecting a number of contenders, without a clear plan of action in mind,  I stumbled upon a free app, ABA Flash Cards – Actions by kindergarten.com, which is designed to target verb labeling in ASD children.   When I saw this app, I immediately knew how I wanted to appdapt it.  I especially liked the fact that the app is made for both Ipad and Iphone. Here’s why.

My primary setting is an out of district day school inside a partial psychiatric hospital.  So in my line of work I  frequently do therapy with students just coming out from  “chill out rooms” and “calm down areas”.  This is definitely not the time when I want to bring or use a lot of materials in the session, since in a moment’s notice the session’s atmosphere can change from calm and productive into volatile and complicated.  I also didn’t  want to use a bulky Ipad in sessions with relatively new children on the caseload, since it usually takes a few sessions of careful observations and interaction to learn what makes them “tick”. Consequently, I was looking for an app which could ideally be downloaded onto not just the Ipad but also the Iphone. I reasoned that in unexpected  situations I could simply put the phone into my pocket, unlike the Ipad, which in crisis situations can easily become a target or a missile.

Given the fact that many children with psychiatric disorders present with significant social pragmatic language deficits (Hyter, 2003; Hyter et al 2001; Cohen et al., 1998; Bryan, 1991; Goldman, 1987 ), which is certainly the case for the children on my caseload, I planned on adapting this app to target my students’ pragmatic language development, social problem solving skills as well as perspective taking abilities.

So here are just a few examples of how I appdapted the cards.  First, I turned off the sound, since the visual images were what I was going after.  Then I separated the cards into several categories and formulated some sample questions and scenarios that I was going to ask/pose to the students:

Making Inferences (re: People, Locations and Actions)

iPhone Screenshot 2

What do you think the girl is thinking about?

How do you know what she is thinking?

How do you think she is feeling?

How can you tell?

Where do you think she is?

How do you know?

 

Multiple Interpretations of Actions and Settings: 

iPhone Screenshot 3

 

What do you think the girl is doing?

What else could she be doing?

 

 

 

 

 

boyflowerHow does the boy feel about the flower?

Give me a different explanation of how else can he possibly feel?

 

 

 

 

Who are the boys in the picture? (relationship)

Who else could they be?

What do you think the boy in a blue shirt is whispering to the boy in a red shirt?

What else could he be saying?

How do you know?

 

Supporting Empathy/Sympathy and Developing Peer Relatedness:

How does this child feel?

Why do you think he is crying?

What can you ask him/tell him to make things better?

 

 

 

 

The girl is laughing because someone did something nice for her?

What do you think they did?

 

 

 

 

 

Interpreting Ambiguous Situations:

girlrunning

 

What is the girl doing?

Who do you think is the woman in the picture?

How do you know?

How does she feel about what the girl is doing?

How do you know?

My goal was to help the students how to correctly interpret facial features, body language, and context clues in order to teach them how to appropriately justify their responses. I also wanted to demonstrate to them that many times the situations in which we find ourselves in or the scenes that we are confronted with on daily basis  could be interpreted in multiple ways. Moreover, I wanted to teach how appropriately speak to, console, praise, or compliment others in order to improve their ability to relate to peers. Finally, I wanted to provide them with an opportunity to improve their perspective taking abilities so they could comprehend and verbally demonstrate  that other people could have feelings, beliefs and desires different from theirs.

Since I knew that many of my students had significant difficulties with even such simple tasks as labeling and identifying feelings, I also wanted to make sure that the students got multiple opportunities to describe a variety of emotions that they saw in the images, beyond offering the rudimentary labels of “happy”, “mad”, “sad”, so I took pictures of Emotions Word Bank as well as Emotion Color Wheel courtesy of the Do2Learn website, to store in my phone, in order to provide them with extra support.

                

The above allowed me not only to provide them with visual and written illustrations but also to teach them synonyms and antonyms of relevant words.  Finally, per my psychotherapist colleagues request,  I also compiled a list of vocabulary terms reflecting additional internal states besides emotions (happy, mad) and emotional behaviors (laughing, crying, frowning). These included words related to:  Cognition (know, think, remember, guess), Perception (see, hear, watch, feel), and Desire (want, need, wish), (Dodd, 2012) so my students could optimally benefit not just from language related therapy services but also their individual psychotherapy sessions as well.

I’ve only just began trialing the usage of this app with the students but I have to admit, even though its still the early days, so far things have been working pretty well. Looks like there’s hope for flashcards after all!

References:

———Bryan, T. (1991). Social problems and learning disabilities. In B. Y. L. Wong (Ed.), Learning about learning disabilities (pp. 195-229). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

—Cohen, N. & Barwick, M. (1996) Comorbidity of Language and Social-Emotional Disorders: Comparison of Psychiatric Outpatients and Their Siblings. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 25(2), 192-200.

Goldman, L. G. (1987). Social implications of learning disorders. Reading, Writing and Learning Disabilities, 3, 119-130.

—Hyter, Y. D., et al (2001). Pragmatic language intervention for children with language and emotional/behavioral disorders. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 23(1), 4–16.

Hyter, Y. D. (2003). Language intervention  for children with emotional or behavioral disorders. Behavioral  Disorders, 29, 65–76.

Morrow, L. M., Pressley, M., Smith, J.K., & Smith, M. (1997). The effect of a literature-based program integrated into literacy and science instruction with children from diverse background. Reading Research Quarterly, 32(1), 54-76.

Petersen, D. B., Dodd, J & Finestack, L. H (2012, Oct 9) Narrative Assessment and Intervention: Live Chat. Sponsored by SIG 1: Language Learning and Education. http://www.asha.org/events/live/10-09-2012-narrative-assessment-and-intervention/

Ramey, E. K. (1995). An integrated approach to language arts instruction. The Reading Teacher, 48(5), 418-419.

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Stimulating Language Abilities of Internationally Adopted Children: Fun with Ready-Made Fall and Halloween Bingo

  There are many fun language based activities parents can do at home with their newly (and not so newly) internationally adopted  preschool and school aged children in the fall. One of my personal favorites is bingo. Boggles World, an online ESL teacher resource actually has a number of ready made materials, flashcards, and worksheets which can be adapted for such purposes. For example, their Fall and Halloween Bingo comes with both call out cards and a 3×3 and a 4×4 (as well as 3×3) card generator/boards. Clicking the refresh button will generate as many cards as you need, so the supply is endless! You can copy and paste the entire bingo board into a word document resize it and then print it out on reinforced paper or just laminate it.

Fall vocabulary words includecorn, crops, farmer, scarecrow, apples, acorns, oak leaf, maple leaves, ginkgo leaves, grapes, mushrooms, salmon, geese, squirrel, jacket, turkey, Jack-O’-Lantern, rake, pumpkins, harvest moon, hay, chestnuts, crow, and sparrow

Halloween vocabulary words includewitch, ghost, skeleton, skull, spider, owl, Jack-O’-Lantern, devil, cobweb, graveyard, clown, pirate, robot, superhero, mummy, vampire, bat, black cat, trick or treaters, alien, werewolf

Now the fun begins!

Some suggested activities:

Practice Vocabulary Labeling: Label the words for newly adopted IA children and get them to say the words after you.

Practice Simple Sentences: Make up simple sentences such as A spider lives in a cobweb or  A squirrel is eating an acorn.

Practice Rhyming:  what rhymes with cat/bat/ trick/leaf/ rake/moon?

For those children who are having articulation (speech) difficulties practice saying  words with select sounds (/ch/, /sh/, /l/, etc) to improve their  intelligibility (pronunciation)

Practice Categorization Skills: Name some fall words, Halloween words, name some popular halloween costumes, name some popular fall activities, etc

Practice naming Associations: what goes with a witch (broom), what goes with a squirrel (acorn), etc

Practice expanding vocabulary by providing Attributes (object characteristics):  Take a noun-word (thing) such as “squirrel” and answer some questions about it: what is it? what does it do? where do you find it? what are its parts? What color/shape is it? does it make any sounds? what goes with it.  Here’s one example, (I see a pumpkin. It’s a fruit/vegetable that you can plant, grow and eat. You find it on a farm. It’s round and orange and is the size of a ball. Inside the pumpkin are seeds. You can carve it and make a jack o lantern out of it).

Practice expanding language by providing relevant  Definitions: Tell me what a skeleton is. Tell me what a scarecrow is.

Practice improving their Problem Solving abilities by naming Similarities and Differences among semantically related items: How are pumpkin and apple alike? How are they different?

Help them understand that many words can have more than one meaning and  explain Multiple Meaning words to them:   A bat, witch, clown, can mean _____ and also mean _________

So join in the fun and start playing today! 

Resources:

Bogglesworld Halloween Bingo Board and Cards http://bogglesworldesl.com/halloweenbingo.htm

Bogglesworld Fall Bingo Board and Cards http://bogglesworldesl.com/autumn_bingo.htm

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Fun and Educational Summer Board Games: Recommendations for SLPs and Parents

 

children-playingAccording to the New York Times Article which summarized the results of Johns Hopkins University study: A  TYPICAL STUDENT WILL LOSE ABOUT ONE  MONTH OF LEARNING OVER THE SUMMER  TIME.

More troubling is that it disproportionately affects low-income students: they lose two months of reading skills, while their higher-income peers — whose parents can send them to enriching camps, take them on educational vacations and surround them with books during the summer — make slight gains.”  To continue: “the study of students in Baltimore found that about two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income ninth graders could be explained by summer learning loss during the elementary school years.”

BUMMER!

But then again it is summer and kids do want to have fun!

So with the recent heatwaves across the country, how about combining fun with learning on those sweltering summer days when lazing at the pool or going outside may not be the best option.

Let’s take a look at the few common and readily available  board games, which can be used to improve various language abilities: including vocabulary knowledge, problem solving, questioning, storytelling as well as other language related skills.

 A to Z Jr– a game of early categorizations is recommended for players 5 – 10 years of age, but can be used with older children depending on their knowledge base. The object of the game is to cover all letters on your letter board by calling out words in specific categories before the timer runs out. This game can be used to increase word finding abilities in children with weak language skills as the categories range from simple (e.g., basic concepts) to more complicated (e.,. attributes). This game is great for several players of different age groups, since younger children or children with weaker knowledge and language skills can answer simpler questions and learn the answers to the harder questions as other players get their turn.

 Tribond Jr – is another great game which purpose is to determine how 3 seemingly random items are related to one another. Good for older children 7-12 years of age it’s also great for problem solving and reasoning as some of the answers are not so straight forward (e.g., what do the clock, orange and circle have in common? Psst…they are all round)

 Password Jr-is a great game to develop the skills of description. In the game you guess passwords based on the one word clues. This game is designed to play with children ages 7 years and older as long as you help the non readers with the cards. It’s great for encouraging children to become both better at describing and at listening. You may want to allow the children to select the word they want to describe in order to boost their confidence in own abilities. Provide visual cheat sheets (listing ways we can describe something such as: what does it do, where does it go, how can we use it etc) to the child as they will be much more likely to provide more complete descriptions of the target words given visual cues.

 Blurt – a game for children 10 and up is a game that works on a simple premise. Blurt out as many answers as you can in order to guess what the word is. Blurt provides ready-made definitions that you read off to players so they could start guessing what the word is. Players and teams use squares on the board strategically to advance by competing in various definition challenges that increase language opportunities.

Games the facilitate asking questions: Guess Who (age 6+),  Guess Where (age 6+), and  Mystery Garden (age 4+) are great for encouraging students to ask relevant questions in order to be the first to win the game. They are also terrific for encouraging reasoning skills. Questions have to be thought through carefully in order to be the first one to win the game.

Game that facilitates Story Telling as well as Perspective Taking:   Fib or Not (ages 10+) encourages the players to fool other players by either telling an outlandish true story or a truly believable made up story. For the players who are listening to the story, the objective is to correctly guess if the story teller is fibbing or being truthful. Players advance by fooling the other players or by guessing correctly.

Games that improve verbal reasoning and problem solving abilities: 30 Second Mysteries (ages 8-12) and 20 Questions for Kids (ages 7+).

In 30 Second Mysteries kids need to use critical thinking and deductive reasoning in order to solve mysteriously sounding cases of everyday events. Each clue read aloud reveals more about the mystery and the trick is to solve it given the fewest number of clues in order to gain the most points.

In 20 Questions for Kids, a guessing game of people, places, and things. Children need to generate original questions in order to obtain information. Here again, each clue read aloud reveals more about the secret identity and the trick is to solve it given the fewest number of clues.

Now that you know which games to play and why, how about you give it a try.

Have fun playing!

References:

Smink, J (2011) This is Your Brain on Summer. New York Times: The Opinion Pages. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/opinion/28smink.html?_r=1

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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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Dept of Children & Families / NJ Task Force on Child Abuse & Neglect Presentation

 

 

 

 

October 21, 2011: East Brunswick NJ

The Department of Children and Families and the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect  had a  statewide child maltreatment prevention conference today and I had great fun doing today’s presentation:

Differential Diagnosis of Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity in At-Risk Children” with our clinical team, Alla Gordina, MD, FAAP and Lydia Shifrin, LCSW.

We had a terrific crowd, who asked great questions and gave excellent feedback.

Presentation Highlights:

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common and  the most controversial neurobehavioral disorders in children diagnosed today

Core symptoms of ADHD include  Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity

Some ADHD statistics:

  • Approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2007.
  • The percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007.
  • Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007.
  • Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • The highest rates of parent-reported ADHD diagnosis were noted among children covered by Medicaid and multiracial children.

However,  numerous medical, psychiatric, neurological, psychological, speech-language and other disorders are frequently misdiagnosed as ADHD

NEARLY 1 MILLION CHILDREN ARE MISDIAGNOSED WITH ADHD

“Since ADHD is an underlying neurological problem where incidence rates should not change dramatically from one birth date to the next, these results suggest that age relative to peers in class, and the resulting differences in behavior, directly affects a child’s probability of being diagnosed with and treated for ADHD.”  (Elder, 2010). Journal of Health Economics

 

Disorders frequently misdiagnosed as AD/HD :

  • Respiratory Disorders (e.g., adenoid hypertrophy, asthma, allergic rhinitis)
  • Metabolic /Endocrine Disorders (e.g.,  diabetes, hypo/hyperthyroidism)
  • Hematological Disorders  (e.g., anemia)
  • Immunological Disorders (acquired and congenital immune problems)
  • Cardiac Disorders (e.g., congenital and acquired heart disease, syncopy)
  • Digestive  Disorders (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, etc)
  • Neurological Disorders  (e.g., Traumatic Brain Injuries, Tumors, Encephalopathy, etc)
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Genetic Disorders (e.g., FASD, Fragile X Syndrome)
  • Toxin Exposure (e.g., Lead, Mercury, Drug Exposure)
  • Infections and Infestations (e.g., yeast overgrowth , intestinal worms/parasites)
  • Mental Health Disorders (e.g., anxiety, mood disorders, adjustment disorders)
  • Mental Retardation
  • Sensory Processing Disorders (vision, hearing, auditory, tactile)
  • Language Processing Disorders
  • Auditory processing Disorders

My presentation focused on explaining that having select language based difficulties can cause the child to act as inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive without actually having ADHD

My examples included:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Severe Language Delay
  • Auditory Processing Disorders
  • Social Pragmatic Language Deficits

Relevance and Implications for Adoption Professionals:

  • Multidisciplinary approach to identification, differential diagnosis, and management of disorders with “AD/HD” symptoms is NEEDED
  • One individual assessment (e.g.,  psychological) CANNOT reliably determine accurate diagnosis, especially when the diagnostic criteria is based on generalized symptomology
  • Refer adopted children with behavioral, listening, sensory, and any unusual deficits for multidisciplinary assessments which include in depth assessment of language abilities before making a conclusive diagnosis
  • Children who receive one assessment ONLY are at risk of misdiagnosis, misidentification, and are delayed in getting appropriate intervention services
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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.