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International adoption is big: according to the US State Department, about 8,600 children were adopted internationally in 2012, down from a high of almost 23,000 in 2004. The largest single country of origin was China, followed by Ethiopia and Russia.

Before arriving in this country, these children come from all types of backgrounds, and just like with natural-born children, they arrive in their new families with a huge range of potential strengths and challenges.

A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry examined if these internationally adopted children faced any long-term developmental or behavioral delays on average compared with non-adopted children—and turned up some interesting findings.

Overall, the research team found that, at 24 months of age, the internationally adopted children lagged behind their non-adopted counterparts in communication and gross motor development. These children were generally less active and avoided challenging physical tasks when observed.

While this sounds alarming, there is good news: within a year, by 36 months of age, almost all of these differences had disappeared—with the notable exception of communication skills. The research team found that internationally adopted children tended to lag behind in communication, even into their late toddler years.

Other research groups have had similar findings. A French research group looking at children adopted from China found that the emotional and intellectual development of adopted children was equal to their non-adopted counterparts at ages 50 months and 66 months—again with the exception of language development, where the adopted children’s expressive language skills were “significantly lower” than non-adopted children.

These findings make sense when you consider that, for most internationally adopted children coming to the United States, English is their second language (or a “second first” language). Thus, these children follow a different learning curve than native English speakers from birth, and many experts recommend intensive remedial language training for internationally adopted children.

Takeaways

  • Internationally adopted 2-year-olds lag behind their non-adopted peers when it comes to communication and gross motor development.
  • By 3 years of age, most of those drawbacks disappear, except communication skills.
  • Internationally adopted children follow a different learning curve than native English speakers from birth.

References

  1. Dalen M, Theie S. Similarities and differences between internationally adopted and nonadopted children in their toddler years: Outcomes from a longitudinal study. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2014 Jul;84(4):397-408.
  2. U.S. State Deparmtment. Intercountry Adoption.
  3. Gauthier K, Genesee F. Language development in internationally adopted children: a special case of early second language learning. Child Dev. 2011 May-Jun;82(3):887-901.

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