Dyslexia and Adoption: Let’s Connect the Dots

It’s dyslexia awareness month. As such, I would be remiss in continuing our story without mentioning adoption, particularly international adoption. What about adoption and dyslexia, or learning differences for that matter? Where is the research, and why isn’t adoption cited more frequently as a subgroup within the broader dyslexia community? Maybe it would over-complicate a very challenging educational space, or possibly most people have no idea that such a high percentage of adopted children, especially those adopted internationally, are dyslexic. If only we knew.

Statistical and Empirical Evidence of High Rates of Dyslexia in Adopted Children

The first person who told us that our daughter would have a learning difference was our adoption attorney. Go figure. While preparing some adoption paperwork, she indicated that our daughter would not get through college in four years—if she went at all. I was insulted. How dare she stereotype our perfect child! Because she had worked with internationally-adopted children her entire career and since our daughter came to us at around the age of two, the attorney predicted our daughter would have some type of learning difference. We knew we would prove the attorney wrong, but sadly, we didn’t.

What I learned is that in 2014 alone 110,373 kids were adopted through foster care, and domestic and international adoption (Jones and Placek, 2017). Kids who are adopted are twice as likely as non-adopted kids to have learning and attention issues, and one in five has a learning disability (Morin, n.d). So, of the 110,373 kids adopted in 2014, 22,075 of them could have learning differences, such as dyslexia.

Adoption in the Dyslexia Space

With such a high percentage of adopted children eventually diagnosed with learning differences, how much of the published or ongoing research or initiatives take their many differences into consideration? Several years ago, I followed a study on language disruption, and the havoc it wreaks on children when a first language is suddenly halted, and they are only exposed to the new language (Gindis, 2004). I have also followed work that speech-language pathologists conduct on this very same issue. Yet, despite the growing awareness among professionals, we rarely hear how adoption is a factor in reading differences when we are meeting with professionals to talk about interventions for our daughter. Maybe the feeling is that at this point, it’s just too late; dyslexia presents as dyslexia, and the underlying reason is a moot point. I’m not sure I buy that, though.

Isabella age 2
Abruptly stopping a first language may have consequences.

Like so many areas, adoption and dyslexia are presented in different silos.

With dyslexia and adoption rarely mentioned together in mainstream studies, several questions come to mind. For example, are the brains of non-adopted kids with dyslexia and adopted kids with dyslexia organized similarly (Wolf, 2017)? Are adopted kids more likely to have dyslexia based on missed milestones and other related issues rather than inheriting the difference through genetics? It seems obvious, but experts should validate that vital point. It is hard to believe that we are the only ones attempting to connect the dots. So, why does all of this matter, especially to adoptive families? Not being a speech pathologist, reading specialist or even an adoption specialist, I offer three thoughts from the perspective of a parent with a child from Guatemala, and why it matters:

1. If we know that sudden language loss contributes to learning issues, a decision to continue the first language could be part of the post-adoption plan.
2. International adoption agencies could prepare parents better.
3. Funding sources to maintain the first language could be sought.

Maybe we just need a closer alliance or a bridge between the adoption and the dyslexia communities. Please let me know your thoughts or comments on this post. I would also welcome any information about ongoing or published research on this topic.

Bibliography and References

Hanford, E. (2017). States’ Laws to Support Dyslexic Children Mostly Lack Funding, Accountability, Training Mandates. Retrieved from https://www.apmreports.org/story/2017/10/24/dyslexia-laws-by-state

Gindis, B. (2004). Language Development and Internationally Adopted Children. China Connection, volume 10 (2), pages. 34-37. Retrieved from http://www.bgcenter.com/LanguageDevelopment.htm

International Dyslexia Association. About Dyslexia: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/

Jones, J., Placek, P. (2017). Adoption: By the Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/2017/02/adoption-by-the-numbers

Morin, A. Learning and Attention Issues in Adopted Children. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/getting-started/what-you-need-to-know/learning-and-attention-issues-in-adopted-children

Wolf, M. (Interviewee). (2017). Rewiring our Thinking on Literacy, Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/mornings/dr-maryanne-wolf/8820194