Can Your Adopted Child Name that Fruit?

I need help.

Rory has been with us now for two years and two months. And she came speaking English–about 2-year-old English. Her language is still behind in some expected ways–she struggles with “he” and “she” and verb tenses–and that’s cool. She gets speech therapy for that, and for leaving off the final consonants of all her words (speech therapy doubles as ESL in her case, since its not really her second language–they know the history and work with it). That’s all good.

But what I am worried about are NOUNS. Specifically, really common nouns that we use all the time that she just doesn’t seem to be going to pick up. She can’t remember the names of most foods, for example–all fruits are interchangeable, even the ones she likes. She can’t remember the names of things we eat often, but not weekly–like grilled cheese, say, or tacos–and I don’t mean just one or two random things, I mean LOTS of things. It’s hard for her to ask for things in her lunch or at a restaurant (it doesn’t matter at dinner, if it’s tacos, you’re eating tacos whether you can remember the name or not).

I don’t know how worried to be about this. It’s not just a couple of things, it’s a lot of things. Common things. We eat fruit every single day at least once. We pick blueberries off the bushes in the yard. I really think it’s weird that she can’t remember what they’re called from one day to the next, and I don’t know a) whether to worry; b) what, if anything I should do about it or c) whether to point it out when it happens. Should I do something to try to fix the words in her head at the moment we are using them? Ask her to repeat the name of what she wants? She tends to rely on “I want like Lily,” or “like Wyatt.” Sometimes it’s a real problem–she didn’t recognize the name of what someone else wanted at a bakery or something, or in some situation where I was going to get something, and then once she sees what Sam has, or whatever, she’s upset–and it’s too late. I try to head that off at the pass, but I don’t always get it.

Anyone else at two years, are you seeing the same patterns? Any expert thoughts? Because her language situation was so weird, it’s hard to get anyone to be definitive on what we can expect–and this time I don’t even know who to ask!

It’s not just this, either. She doesn’t remember names, even of friends she wants for playdates. And she also tends to just let speech wash over her. I can have a twenty minute long conversation with everyone else about where we are going, with her right there, putting on her shoes, and then when we get in the car, she asks where we’re going. It makes me wonder if some part of her isn’t just being lazy–not really, consciously lazy, but just figuring other people will deal with this for her. Maybe because she didn’t need to make these choices or be aware of other people early in her life?

I have no idea where this should be two years in.. Help!

14 Responses to “Can Your Adopted Child Name that Fruit?”

  1. we’re almost 2 years in and we were working from no English. Our son is 4 (came home at 2.5). Speech itself was slow, SLOW going. Just this summer have we even been able to have any sort of conversation with Matthew. All that being said, we have not experienced any of this that you are talking about. It definitely takes Matthew a long time to come up with the right words when he is trying to tell me something, but nouns were probably the first things he was able to grasp. I don’t know why, but your entry makes me think of some form of apraxia or maybe a processing disorder. I’m pretty surprised that her speech therapist hasn’t weighed in on this (or maybe she has), but as someone who is in a similar position as you, I can say while we have our share of issues, this is not one of them. Hope you find some answers and soon.

  2. It sounds to me like it could be an auditory processing or word retrieval problem. Or maybe this:

    In any case, it sounds like a serious problem and you need to find a specialist who will help you tease out the cause. I don’t know if that would be a more in-depth speech and hearing evaluations or a neuro evaluation, but it sounds much more serious than a general ESL/speech issue.

    For what it is worth, I used to think L was lazy (or had a serious developmental or learning disability) about learning letters until we figured out her visual processing problem and addressed it. The right therapy resulted in a completely different kid.

  3. Lawmommy says:

    Hmm…Lana came home at age 4 with zero English, but a whole lot of Vietnamese. At two years in, her vocabulary was limited, but words we used consistently she used correctly. (Banana, apple, spagetti, noodles, soup, tomatoes, etc.) Her aquisition of language was impressive enough that it took me almost four years to figure out that there are lots of words she still doesn’t know – thermos and radiator are two that came up recently. She is very, very, very good at making sure the person she is talking to doesn’t pick up on the fact that she doesn’t entirely understand what has been said to her. I don’t think I would have figured it that there are so many words she doesn’t understand if I hadn’t had her teacher call me in to look at her vocabularly assessment and compare it to her reading assessment. Her vocabulary assessment was extremely low, while her reading assessment was normal. Which means, she can sound the words out based on the letters, but she doesn’t know what lots of them mean. Since then, I’ve been encouraging her to ask me when she doesn’t understand a word, and she will, but only very quietly or if we are alone.

  4. Kate says:

    We are in exactly the same situation with our 6 year-old daughter, adopted from Guatemala. She mixes up words (including mommy and daddy) and cannot seem to remember anyone’s name. As with you, this happens exclusively with nouns.

    For awhile we let it slide, but more recently have begun making her work to remember the words. We say we don’t understand what she was saying, could she be more specific. It seems to work, meaning she comes up with the word eventually, but she hasn’t stopped doing it (so it becomes a somewhat frustrating and exhausting process).

    She is also not reading or writing yet and just this month, we had her tested for learning disabilities. It turns out she might have some, which is what it is and we’ll deal with it as we need to, but most interesting in terms of this particular problem is that she tested extremely high in vocabulary. She has an incredible vocabulary; it’s the recall she has trouble with.

    Also, she’s at the cognitive level of a child two years younger. The therapist couldn’t say whether that could have anything to do with some aspect of her being adopted, but didn’t rule it out.

    I’m not sure any of this is at all helpful, other to know that you’re not alone (which is what your blog has been doing for me since I discovered it a few months ago).

  5. Snick says:

    It could be some form of apraxia, or a language processing disorder, or a learning disability, or a working memory issue, or might even have an emotional component. It could be one, some or none of the above. It could just be Rory, but I’d keep a very, very close eye on it, especially when she starts school, as this could cause her immense frustration. Come to think of it, it might have already, as her behaviour sometimes shall we say, less than stellar 😉 She may already be in total frustration mode because her communication skills are weaker than they might be, coupled with the esl thing.

    Because I’m that kind of mom, I’d have her evaluated asap and bring up the frustrating behaviour as well. I have seen it time and time again where a child struggles with learning and their behaviour is, uh, concerning. Rory might benefit from a developmental kindergarten where she can get the assessment, and help she needs, before learning to read in first grade.


  6. We’re 2 years & 1 month in, and our daughter was 6.5 when we adopted her, with no English at all. She definitely still has the he/she confusion. And she is very prone to workarounds when she doesn’t know a given vocab word (as well as for substituting “Mommy, come here!” so she can just show me what she wants rather than describing it with words). I remember being this way myself when I was learning Spanish.

    The difficulty with nouns, though, we haven’t seen.

    I too have wondered where her English should be at this point, and have considered speech therapy, which one of my other kids attends, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

  7. Beth says:

    Sounds so similar to my daughter (adopted at 15 mos). She exhibits many of the same yearning for attention traits as Rory. I’ve actually chalked up the constant misremembering to playing me, trying get attention, her way of messing with mommy. She doesn’t have any of these issues outside of our house. At home she spends so much time worrying about what other people have, vs what she doesn’t have, that I know she’s not paying attnetion to half of what I’m saying. Get her alone, though, and she’s a different kid. This is also the girl who at 5 is reading at a 1st grade level. And still won’t let me ever forget the time I made a wrong turn 2 years ago…

    I agree it’d be good to get a memory/ language to rule things out. But also give some consideration to the need for attnetion challenges you are already wrestling with.

  8. Laurie says:

    Yep – terribly familar. My daughter came home at 5 years old and is now almost 11. After kindergarten, her language aquisition seemed to level off. Today we still deal with sentences out of order, inability to express detail, and she has a very hard time with retailing. She finally officially got speech services last year but only because she repeated 2nd grade and was still having problems in 3rd. She starts 4th grade on Thursday and I hope she makes the same great progress this year with speech, but her speech teacher has no label to give what her speech disability is.

    In contrast, her cousin came home at 7 years old with a severe hearing loss. He’s now 11 and has no problems with language even though he cannot hear most of it. My son came home at 4 years old – no one could tell he wasn’t a native English speaker by the time he was home 9 months and he’s now almost 8!

  9. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    Ok, I’m both encouraged AND discouraged! I don’t know that you’d know Rory wasn’t a native English speaker–which in fact she is–but you can sure tell there are issues. I think I’ll start in the easiest place, which is with her current speech therapist. I think “expressive language disorder” is actually her diagnosis (she’s not really ESL, it’s just that they’re aware of the issue). And she IS getting help for it. But that will end after this year unless we find her help privately, and I think the waiting lists around here are so long we better get on one now…

    There isn’t a developmental kindergarten. There is only kindergarten, love it or pay to leave it. Small town living has its price.

  10. Gina says:

    My now 10 1/2 yr old DD came home to VT at almost
    4 yrs old with no English, only speaking Mandarin. She still qualifies for ELL (English Language Learner) at school, similar to ESL but a different twist of losing their first language…I think.
    VT uses the WiDA program which addresses academic & expressive language acquisition. DD is home almost 7 years and last year she tested out of the program in all but written language. Her school has assured me that they will continue to give her ELL assistance as long as I think she needs it. We do see a need in math and science (academic) language and have asked for it to continue this year too.
    I never expected this much assistance from her small
    school in this small VT town.

    She went thru a time where I worried about her language…same thing, not knowing or remembering simple words (or so I thought) but she would say,
    I’m just a girl trying to learn SO Much. Yes, she wasn’t only learning language but learning social cues, learning how to be in a family, learning so much more than kids brought up here at an earlier age. Her teachers and ELL teacher said it takes 6 or more years for someone who loses their first language completely to catch up to a native language speaker.

    I also remember DD mixing up her pronouns FOREVER and also doing it on purpose because it would get a rise out of her brother! It took forever for plurals to become more natural for her to say too.

    We do occasionally worried about her academics, is it language or a learning disability? or anxiety? So far, we keep seeing academic progress and figure it’s a combination of all of those.

    I would ask your school if they are using the WiDA program.

  11. Her speech IEP should not necessarily end when she starts school. I would do everything in your power to keep it if you don’t think she is at age-level. Our district has expressed an intention to boot L off her IEP when she heads to kindergarten and we are going to lawyer up to try to keep it.

    Also, when you are talking about processing problems, be prepared for regular teachers/therapists to not know what the heck you are talking about. L had a very obvious (based on developmental tests at her preschool) visual processing problem and her special ed preschool teacher had never heard of such a thing.

    Don’t let them try to convince you it is only an expressive language problem when it really sounds like she has retrieval, retention or processing issues. Do you really think she has the word “blueberries” in her head and can’t spit it out? Or is it that she can’t get the word to stick in her head in the first place?

  12. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    “Do you really think she has the word “blueberries” in her head and can’t spit it out? Or is it that she can’t get the word to stick in her head in the first place?”

    I wish I knew. I think–hope–it’s that there’s a lot in there and she’s still sorting. I think it’s hard for her to know when it matters to narrow down a category, like “breakfast food” and when it doesn’t.

    Incidentally, I used to do IEP lawyer work, briefly, pro bono. I know nothing much about it any more, and it’s very VERY state specific anyway (I was in NYC). But at least if I have to, I know I can figure it out!

  13. Nancy says:

    My daughter definitely had that problems. It was like she got to the ‘fruit’ section of her brain and was just too tired to figure out exactly which fruit, so she’d just say orange. Apple. Orange. Fruits, colors, toys, food all problems.

    She also couldn’t remember names because there was nothing special about them. Why Tom? Why Bill? She talked 24 hours a day, so you’d think it would get better, but not really. A story would go like this: Blah blah blah – oh, what Kit daddy name? – yes Tom did this and that, blah blah blah -oh what Kit daddy name? – yes Tom helped me ride a bike…She can remember EVERYTHING, every event, what everyone was wearing, but not the names.

    Another problem was why things have 2 names for the same thing! Sofa AND couch? WHY? Jam is the same as jelly? WHY? When stories and homework was old, like a story written in the 1950, every word had to be explained. And jokes? Amelia Bedelia was not funny at our house.

    She’s older now and is much better. Much. I think things like memorizing songs, poems, rhymes helped. Using the same words consistently helped, such as don’t use fruit, say orange or grapes. Repeat the words when you hand her an orange or grape.

    My other daughter, who is great with words and reading, did have what I called her stuttering stage. She didn’t stutter like Porky Pig, but would say, “like like like like” about 5 times before the word she was ‘looking for’ in her mind came out. She was about 4 when this was noticeable for about 6 months.

  14. Flamingo says:

    hmmm…well, let’s see. we’ve been home for about the same amount of time as you. she DEFINITELY needs ESL. She picked up english quickly and speaks it very well. this is her conversational part. the instructional part is out in left field. whew. she really doesn’t understand things sometimes.

    now nevaeh has a fantastic memory. so i don’t see this at all with her. although she STILL screws up he and she it drives me NUTS…though i know that is normal.

    my other daughter does have some LD’s. she has some auditory processing issues (non diagnosed:) and she DEFINITELY has memory issues. wow…you REALLY need to work and work and work to get her to remember things. the thing she is worst at? math and names. she is horrible horrible horrible with remembering peoples names. it takes her a really long time. BUUUT once she gets it, it’s in there. her teacher told me what takes a “normal” learning kid 15 times in repetition to learn it might take her 100.

    one thing i would try with her is to “test” her. for example, when she can’t remember the “blueberry” give her multiple choice. ask her is this a strawberry, a blueberry or a rasberry? i would just be curious to know if she knows the answer when she hears it.

    i don’t know that this would be an attention thing. nevaeh will sometimes ask what i’m doing when it’s VERY clear what i’m doing or where we are going when she KNOWS where we are going. though i don’t think it’s attention…i think that is a developmental thing that she is just behind on.

    as far as speech. again, my daughter had decent speech issues. with apraxia you have the info up there but you can’t get it out. true apraxia, kiddos cant’ speak much at all. it doesn’t sound like that is the case at all with her.

    i would lean more toward memory issues (lol like i really would know:) i will say that drug use during pregancy can really impact memory issues in kids..since you don’t have that history you dont know about that. just a thought.