Adoptive Parents Talk Series: Learning Challenges
Being an adoptive parent can sometimes be a very lonely journey. While the issues our children face are not necessarily unique, we are always trying to understand if they stem from their early experiences or genetic history. But unlike biological families, we often have very little information on which to base our understanding and that can be an isolating and difficult experience.
That’s why AFEC started the Adoptive Parent Talk (APT) series.
It’s meant to be a safe space for adoptive parents to talk honestly about their experiences and tap into other families’ research and insights. In mid-January, a group of parents gathered for our first session in Los Altos, California to discuss learning challenges.
Almost everyone mentioned their children had issues with focus, anxiety around testing or emotional regulation. Though the ages of children varied, one common question was when to turn to outside assistance. One mother was concerned that she might be overreacting to a fairly normal developmental path for a child adopted at an older age. But parents with teenagers and older kids reassured her and other families with younger kids to trust their instincts. “If something doesn’t feel right, push the school for an evaluation and work with healthcare professionals,” said one parent.
Much of the conversation centered on the tactical aspects of doing this effectively. One key takeaway was that it’s important for families to have a clear understanding of their rights, particularly if your child attends public school. Families discussed the legal mandates and processes to request evaluations from their school districts. One insightful piece of advice was using natural academic transitions, such as the move from junior high school to high school, as an impetus for an evaluation so the child is better prepared for the transition.
Many of the families had also tried private evaluations and shared their experiences. Several families raved about LindaMood-Bell, which they felt worked well for teaching the mechanics of reading and comprehension. Another family mentioned the Barton Reading and Spelling System. Several others spoke about On Cloud Nine from Linda Mood Bell and Kumon for math assistance.
But they cautioned that these private evaluators tend to schedule pretty far into the future and can be quite expensive (several hundred dollars a session). Some families had really positive experiences where the evaluation was able to pinpoint the issue the child was facing. However, they warned that school districts may not take those private evaluations into account for their assessments and interventions .
One parent of older children said no matter what concerns families had, it was really important to maintain appropriate expectations, “Don’t think your child will get straight A’s. Save yourself and your child from the repercussions of unrealistic expectations.”
A special education teacher who attended the session urged parents to try to understand what the child’s learning gaps are. She urged parents to talk to their kids, especially older children who would likely be able to communicate about these issues in a more effective way. “Try to understand what they are learning and what is difficult for them and then seek out that help” she urged.
One family with teenagers shared what had worked for them to help their daughter catch up. “Catch up happened in the summer. My child went for 2-3 hours a day during summer vacation to catch up. Some parents sent their kid for an hour of tutoring everyday throughout the week, but with activities and homework during the school year that would have been stressful. Doing it this way, my child still came home happy after summer tutoring.”
That point led to some spirited conversation about balancing academics and social, emotional well-being. While many of the families with younger kids seemed less certain on how to achieve that balance, more experienced parents were pretty united on the priority. They agreed that helping their children manage their emotions and self-esteem has proven to be far more important in the long run.