Initial delays in speech and language are almost universal in children adopted from institutions, with expressive language (talking) usually more delayed than nonverbal social interaction skills. Those of us who work with a lot of adopted children develop a rough sense of what are "typical" orphanage delays, but fortunately, we're also seeing some useful research data on what actually is "normal" language development in internationally adopted children.
The thing to remember (and remind your pediatrician, school district, mother-in-law, etc ...) is that this is not just an ESL or bilingual issue. Internationally adopted children from backgrounds of neglect or inadequate stimulation are usually delayed in their native language. When they are adopted, they have "arrested" development of that 1st language (unless you happen to be fluent in Russian, Mandarin, etc). They then rapidly lose what abilities they had in their native language, before their "new first language" (English) has time to develop. This leaves them in the "language lurch" for awhile, without functional abilities in either their 1st or 2nd languages. Not an easy place to be ... this may be partly responsible for those "the honeymoon is over!" behavioral issues that many families experience several months post-adoption.
Sharon Glennen, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, has done a lot of the research on this topic, including a longitudinal study of language development in children adopted as infants and toddlers from Eastern Europe. On her website, she reviews the effects of orphanage care on language development, presents some very useful tables of typical language development in international adoptees, as well as pre-adoption language questions for parents to ask.
- Our Favorite Books for Speech/Language Delays
- Article from Adoptive Families Magazine on Language in Toddler Adoptees
- Harvard Study of Language Development in Internationally Adopted Children (ongoing)
- Study of Language Development in Children Adopted from China (ongoing)
- RUSH Into English, a CD for Russian children 4-5 years and up to help them learn English