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

Reading Progress & the Launch of Teach My Kid to Read

Progress, progress, progress. The overall impression from the tutor and some of the administrators is that our daughter progressed at Camp Dunnabeck. Mostly we hear that she is making incredible progress, but we simply need to hear the word “progress” to be relieved. It has been years since the word progress has been used relative to reading skills without the terms gradually or inconsistently preceding it. Progress. She is improving. She can get better. She can strive. We can hope. She is not just artistic, creative and athletic. She is smart-period. We never had doubt.

Bella flying
Isabella at age two is flying over the ocean.

It’s time to go home. It’s time to figure out school for next year. It’s been six weeks of commuting and staying in rental properties in remote areas with mixed WiFi and cell service. For these past few days, we are in a studio, basement apartment two miles from the camp. It is Hudson River School of American Landscape painters breathtaking, but so secluded. I’ve had a fever each night along with aches and pains in my neck and shoulders. I’m ready to go home. I miss Tiana. I miss our cats. School starts in less than a month, and we haven’t figured out what we are doing. It’s time to make a decision. A decision doesn’t mean we can’t change paths, but we need to make a decision.

millerton view
The view from our studio apartment near Camp Dunnabeck.

Back to our Montessori School. Isabella loves her school. We are fortunate in that with all of her learning challenges relative to reading; her confidence is still intact. At her darkest, she shouts out that she is dumb, but most of the time she is OK. When I ask her where she wants to go to school this fall she says she wants to go back to her current Montessori school. It is familiar, and she feels safe there. They make great efforts to teach her, but it is not a school for language differences, nor do they have multi-sensory reading services delivered with fidelity. It is just a good place with lots of committed teachers that do their best to encourage each child’s strengths. Our daughter needs more than that. She needs specialized services so that she can grow up to be independent and have the necessary life skills to follow her dreams.

Multi-sensory services with fidelity should be offered in every school. Most schools are not set up to deliver those services, so the solutions and costs fall to the parents to figure out, or not.

Solutions and advocacy. I have spent my career creating content for different learners. Some of my time has been devoted to creating content for non-traditional students, but most of my time has been focused on traditional or what some call neuro-typical learners. Creating so-called traditional content is not where I belong right now. I’m tired of just talking and listening. I need to be part of a plan or the action. It’s cheesy, but being up here surrounded by all this natural beauty has given me the strength and courage to share our story.

Teach My Kid to Read. I hope to grow Teach My Kid to Read into an organization. While that is being figured out I will continue to share our story and stories of other families. Continue to follow us to see how services work out this fall, and to learn about other topics related to reading and learning differences. If you would like to get involved with Teach My Kid to Read contact me at: marion.waldman@gmail.com

A Bittersweet Reflection on Post-Camp Testing

It’s Sunday, July 30th the height of summer, and it’s a beautiful sunny day at Camp Dunnabeck, nestled between The Berkshires and The Catskills. So, what are we doing today?

Post-Camp Testing

There’s something bittersweet about arriving at a kids’ camp at 8 am on a Sunday and seeing all of the campers lined up for testing. Bittersweet in that most kids are still sleeping, or if they are up this early on a perfect July day, then they are getting ready to go swimming or to do something summer-like. Parents who have a kid with a reading difference have to walk that delicate tightrope of allowing their kid be a kid and giving them enough services so that they don’t fall even further behind; especially true when dealing with long-term retrieval and working memory challenges. Combining services with a typical camp experience is a prime example of why a place like Camp Dunnabeck is so needed. The kids have so much fun that the reading services are a non-issue; at least for us. I wish all kids with reading differences had an option like Camp Dunnabeck.

Doesn’t every child deserve a summer?

So, what is post-camp testing all about, and why are we here on a gorgeous Sunday morning in late July:

1. The tests measure progress after nearly six weeks of intensive services.
2. The data then goes to the home school district for seamless delivery of reading or learning services-in an ideal world of course.
3. While the results of only testing tell a piece of the story, this data can be used to demonstrate how a kid, who progresses gradually or inconsistently, like our daughter, can thrive with the right services delivered with fidelity. Matter of fact, she went up three grade levels in decoding!

The Other Piece of The Story

The other piece of the story is how our Montessori school perceives the child. Each child is different and unique with their strengths and weaknesses. Without saying, many kids with reading differences get hammered in the typical school system. They lose confidence, motivation, and a child who has previously been curious and excited about learning gives up. While testing results are a necessary tool to gauge progress, seeing a kid at Camp Dunnabeck get excited about learning, showing confidence, and gaining maturity I would argue, is just as important as any test result. We are watching our daughter regain her love of learning and enthusiasm this summer. She is happy in this community that accepts each other’s reading differences, and the extra work has become second nature. It is no wonder that so many adults who had reading differences as kids become leaders. These kids work so hard!

I will forever be grateful that my daughter had the best summer of her life, and I will also always remember her running out of the car to join her camp group in the lineup before post-camp testing. She couldn’t wait to be with her friends and start her day. And I cried because I realized that she had no expectations or idea of what it means to have a typical summer; she is happy, and that is what matters.

Stay tuned to hear more about the end of Camp Dunnabeck.

5K Award at Camp Dunnabeck
Our daughter proudly displays her 5K medal for placing first in her age-group at The Camp Dunnabeck 5K

Home School? Private School? Why the School System Doesn’t Work for All Kids

The upshot of the neuropsychological assessment is that our daughter should go to a school specific to kids with language disabilities or we should consider home schooling. I apologize for the semantics as I usually say reading or language differences, but this is how everything was presented to us, and this is the beginning of our story. Whether it is a gift, difference or disability can be debated with input in another post.

HOME SCHOOLING?
I was totally floored by this suggestion, and certainly not proud of my judgmental, knee-jerk reaction, but once I saw the price tag of the recommended schools, and the way our lives could be altered, I became what my old corporate vocabulary used to term “guardedly optimistic.” Now, it’s not that I think home schooling is awful. There are kids that could thrive in a home school environment, and for some families, it is a great choice. Look at Sawyer Fredericks, the winner of The Voice. There’s a mature guy. For us, though, home schooling is not a natural or a good choice. Our daughter is social and athletic. She lists eating lunch with her friends as one of her favorite subjects. She thrives being around her peers, and it would be a crime to remove her from a more social setting.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS FOR LANGUAGE DISABILITIES
My gut tells me that the best solution for my daughter is a private school for language differences. Why a school for language differences? She wouldn’t be stuck with me all day, and she would be around other smart and gifted kids with challenges similar to her own, and most important, teachers that know how to teach to dyslexics. Why is it so hard for kids with language/reading differences to get access to schools with teachers trained to teach them? Parents of kids with hearing or visual impairments don’t fight to be taught with sign language or Braille-as far as I know. Why are multi-sensory curricular interventions a fight?

So, in the best scenario, we consider a school for language differences. Here are the challenges we face:

1.The nearest school is an hour and twenty minutes away.
2.The annual tuition is challenging.
3.Our lives could be irrevocably altered.

While a school specific to language disabilities is a great recommendation there’s the issue of our life in a car. Assuming she will participate in extracurriculars, she will have a crazy, long day, and I will be in the car for potentially six hours unless I park myself somewhere in the vicinity of the school, and hang out all day. When would I run? What about our dog? But hey, this is about our daughter and her future.

Then there’s the issue of cost. Unless we win Powerball or Mega Millions, yes, I’m willing to give that a try, we may as well throw our retirement plans out the window. My spouse and I will be paying back the tuition or recovering from our depleted savings until we die or ultimately through all of our assets and savings. The logical solution is that the school district will pay, and I’m willing to take up that fight, but logic has never been my friend, and I’m tired.

Finally, there’s my spouse. While our daughter could easily adjust, with minor complaints, to life in a small town, how would we get through the next seven years being apart? My spouse needs to stay in her job for five more years before she can retire so how would we make that work? Rent a place near the school and then come home on weekends? Buy a house halfway between her job and our daughter’s school? The dog would come with us, but what about the cats? Any choice rocks our world, but there comes a point where the sacrifice is the difference between seeing our daughter thrive versus barely get through middle school or high school.

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
So, knowing we need all the information we can get to make a decision, on Friday we spent a few hours at The Kildonan School, a private school in Amenia, New York, for kids with language disabilities. Stay tuned!

Kildonan admissions
Our daughter goofing off by the admissions building at The Kildonan School.