Language As a Second Language

I have to admit I am a little worried about Rory’s language. She isn’t exactly a non-native English speaker. Her foster parents spoke English, and so did she, although it was about on the level of a two year old (we adopted her at almost four). But the nannies and other staff spoke Chinese or dialects, and I imagine the children did a lot of physical communication, since they would have had varying speech abilities.

Rory is still behind, and in a pretty big way. I think we have been denying it. For one thing, there’s her speech issue, which apparently isn’t related to her cleft directly but may stem from some late development. She leaves off the final consonants of any words ending in a consonant or double consonants. So she can say “Caddie” very clearly (our dog) but will be hard to understand if she says “can.” She could be saying cat, or cap, and she would sound the same.

Then theres the next issue, which is one of not learning the actual words. I am not sure how to handle this. It may be that there are just SO MANY words, and I can sure understand that. But it seems like she isn’t making an effort, and I don’t really mean that she is making a conscious choice not to make an effort, but just that she doesn’t. I don’t think it’s some evil master plan or laziness. What I don’t know is how normal it is, or if it’s an issue. Basically, she takes short cuts. If she’s learned one word for something, like dinner, she uses that word in every possible other context with respect to meals, even though we use many other words. She doesn’t like to be read to, although we read every night. It’s hard for her to hold still. Even when she does, we recently realized she’s not taking in a single thing. As in, read a page in which the name of the protagonist is said no less than six times, ask her what the little girl’s name is, and get a blank stare. She simply has no idea.

That’s obviously personally frustrating–I mean, hello, I’m not reading for my health here–but I’m also concerned with WHY she does it. She’s sitting there, but shes totally tuned out. Picture books are better, especially if she can sit on your lap, but anything a little longer and she’s lost.

And, just because I’m listing my worries here, she can’t count to ten accurately and leaves letters out in the alphabet song (and I’m not sure she associates the alphabet song with actual letters). She can write an assortment of letters, maybe twelve or fifteen of them. But she’s a million miles away from reading.

And she has trouble learning the rules of simple games, even if she wants to play. I’m not sure if that’s the complexity of following multiple commands (if you have two cards that match, hit the plastic hand) or disliking doing what other people tell her to do (certainly true) or just the excitement of playing–Rory has a LOT of trouble holding still or sitting down. She’s learned to be a good sport somewhat, but she always loses, because she just can’t hold all the complexities of the game in her head at once.

I’m not sure if I should worry about any of this. I don’t know if it’s normal international adoptee, or normal any adoptee who didn’t start out in as rich an environment as she now lives in. I don’t know if maybe it’s normal five year old, and because Sam wasn’t surrounded by siblings doing different stuff, I didn’t notice and I suspect Lily and Wyatt don’t represent a fair sample (Sam is generally pretty on target for his age, whereas Lily and Wyatt are generally ahead of the game). I just don’t know. Speech therapy will, in theory, start soon, and she is still in preschool (she technically made the K cut-off, but we wisely held her back). I just don’t know. I figure it will probably all even out in the wash, but I wish I knew for sure!

6 Responses to “Language As a Second Language”

  1. Maybe you have already pursued it, but if it were me, I would be researching auditory processing issues and/or other sensory issues. I am a newer reader, so I am not sure what you might have shared previously about her past and if that might fit, but it seems like a good place to start.

    Our daughter, adopted at age 1 seemed mostly fine, but had some really strange quirks. For example, she seemed interested in reading until you sat her down to read. Then she seemed to have no idea that the pictures had anything to do with the story and she couldn’t really follow the story at all. And she couldn’t exactly sit still long enough to focus either.

    It turned out that she had an atypical presentation of a visual processing problem so she couldn’t actually decode what was going on in pictures because her eyes couldn’t cross midline. She also had some visual vestibular problems that were very strange. Obviously this isn’t your daughter’s issue, but I just want you to know you aren’t alone in having clues that don’t seem to add up. I had read everything and I never came across this specific issue until she failed some random preschool developmental tests and I consulted Dr. Google. Her preschool teacher (in a IEP classroom!) was totally unconvinced and thought we should just “practice more reading”. We could have practiced forever but without therapy, it would have been nothing but frustration.

    After 4 months of vision therapy and occupational therapy, it is almost like a different kid. She is learning to read at age 4, loves stories, can follow them and can recline her head without discomfort (part of her vestibular stuff).

    Sensory issues overlap, so it is possible that you are seeing an intersection of several different factors together (maybe auditory processing and visual processing– does her visual memory seem bad too? That was a big indicator for visual processing issues. Before vision therapy, trying to play memory was like torture for us all!)

    Even though it doesn’t seem like it would make sense, after only 6 weeks of vision therapy, L suddenly grasped the concept of phonics (sounds, not visual), even though we had been working on it for at least 6 months. Our OT likened her development to building on a foundation that was missing some crucial blocks. Once we went back and gave her the skills & experiences she missed, the higher-level skills that were shakey and/or a huge struggle seemed to fall into place. It was truly amazing to watch. I feel terrible for all the times I watched her struggle to learn and wondered if she just wasn’t that smart. It wasn’t about smart, it was about missing some key pieces to the puzzle. Once she got the right pieces, everything fell into place.

    A lot of special ed teachers are very suspect about sensory issues, so you have to find someone who is willing to work with you to sort it out. We found L some great teachers this year who are working with her residual sensory issues like short attention span and inability to sit still. Her IEP now includes a little sensory OT including deep pressure before circle time and a “wiggle seat” and weighted items to help her feel her body well enough to stay in her chair and it has made a huge difference. The fact that she stays in her seat and pays attention with these supports confirms we are not dealing with ADHD.

    It maybe your daughter is hearing what you are saying, but her brain isn’t decoding it or storing it correctly (word retrieval or auditory memory issues). In the abc song, she might not be able to hear the spaces between the letters. If she has visual processing issues, she may not be able to distinguish between the different letters you are showing her, even if she tries really hard.

    No matter what it is, what you are describing sounds atypical to me and it is worth further investigation. I know this comment is crazy long, but I wish someone had told me to go with my gut much sooner.

  2. guest says:

    You might want to get Rory tested. Martha Osborne writes about how her daughter had difficulties reading: “After much testing, we received the very clear diagnosis of Auditory Processing Disorder. Basically it means that Jen’s actual hearing is just fine, but her brain processes sound differently. Some use these examples to explain: 1. Imagine yourself in a bathtub with your ears submerged underwater. Someone is speaking to you. That is how people with APD hear, all the time. A, E, and I vowels all sound exactly the same, O and U sound exactly the same, as do many consonants.” She writes more about it in

  3. Julia says:

    When did your daughter enter foster care? Was she institutionalized first (even for a few months?) That can have a really detrimental effect on language learning. The fact that she ‘tunes out’ when she is read to suggests that her brain didn’t learn to focus on human voice to exclusion of other sounds … so she may listen but a plane flies by and takes her attention and she’s gone —- typically developed kids would focus on your voice and ignore other sounds. How much one-to-one time did she get from a designated carer in the foster home. Was it a family set up or more like a ‘nice’ institution. My son was in a ‘foster home’ but so many volunteers came and went, he had no designated carer, they had no real understanding of attachment and brain development, that it really shouldn’t have been called a foster home. Check out auditory processing and if applicable to your daughter, the imppact of inadequate care on development.

  4. Laurie says:

    Oh boy…does this sound familiar. It’s not a laziness thing – my daughter has this same problem and she is stuck where she was at the end of kindergarten. My daughter came home at 5 years old – she is now 10 and it’s taken me and her vision teachers years to get her qualified for speech. It is an auditory processing problem – they only way we could convince the speech department that it wasn’t an ESL was to use her brother (came home at 4 years old – same vision problem) and her cousin (came home at 7 years old with a major hearing impairment) as her peer group. Same situation, same age group, special need present and it was plain to see that those 2 boys were continuously building their vocabularies and she wasn’t. She now has speech 2 times a week and her vision teacher plus aide work on sentence structure and vocabulary with her on their pull outs. The speech teacher won’t put a label on what’s wrong but the rest of us are in agreement it’s auditory processing issues.

    Good luck!!

  5. Lisen says:

    I think your speech therapist will (hopefully!) pick up on issues that you’re experiencing. My first thought was auditory processing stuff which the evaluator who sets up the speech services should pick up on. Then there’s the stuff that is all connected and plays a big part in Rory’s personality that comes from the nurture + nature part of her past. I am finding the neurological stuff fascinating when reading about brain development in kids who have started life and spent a few years growing in less than ideal situations. There is stuff going on in Rory’s brain that is very different than in your other kids- and not just b/c of different genetics. Her survival mode makes for different brain chemistry than a kid who never had to live like s/he didn’t know if his/her needs would be met.

    Rory is amazing and her spunk and fearlessness is going to serve her well in this world. Speech therapy is a sloooooooow process from my experience, but assuming you get someone intelligent and well trained (more likely in your neck of the woods than up here in mine!) your concerns will be addressed and hopefully you will feel like you have back-up in the field to help Rory get caught up to our Western, biological kid raised in bio family benchmarks.

  6. Flamingo says:

    i’m way behind on reading blogs. actually this sounds alot like my BIO daughter. she does have a version of auditory processing. yes i self diagnosed her. lol seriously though, my daughter has a lot of learning issues. i thought i’d pee my pants when she could finally count to 10 consistently. lol she is in a modified class at public school. shes’ doing great but would be COMPLETLY lost if she wasn’t. go with your gut. get her tested.

    on another note…nevaeh definitely shows signs of ESL issues. they are VERY minor but they are there. she is awesome at speech and understanding yet, throw in the “small” words and she gets confused. i seriously want to bang my head against the wall when we are wroking on letters and numbers. she can count beautifully to 20. so i ask, “what number comes after 4?” “N she says!!” good gravy.