Monday, January 25, 2010

Houston, We Definitely Have a Problem

I just finished a long email to Kenny's teachers back home.  The longer we are working with him here, the more apparent it is that he is challenged by more than English as a Second Language issues.  I am going to begin searching quite seriously for answers, as we need to get to the bottom of this so we can begin to come up with solutions.  In an effort to see if anyone reading this blog has experienced these sorts of issues with their children adopted as older post-institutionalized kids I am going to quote a large portion of my email to the teachers involved.  I know there are many processing issues that older kids often face due to the deprivation of their early life but I am in not very knowledgeable about them and am hoping someone out there might be able to steer us in the right direction or see something familiar in Kenny's issues that might ring a bell with you.  Here is some of what I wrote:
What we are seeing is hard to describe, but it is as if he can not internalize information and recall it later.  Sometimes he seems unable to apply learned information to newly presented material...he can't "connect the dots" and take what he has learned in one place and apply it to build on in another. This does NOT happen all the time, and sometimes it is disconcerting to see it happen here and there and see no pattern to it.  But the biggest and most concerning issue is his recall.
Let me give you an example, and this is what I have been saying for a year and a half now.  Last night we were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy".  It contains a large amount of new vocabulary for both he and the other boys.  Because of this I stop frequently and ask if they know a word I assume is new, then I define it for them and try and use it in another context as well, making sure they all understand the word.  We had two words last night..."preserves" and "stock" (as in livestock) that came up.  I stopped, asked what they meant and Kenny and Josh didn't know what they were so I defined it well.  5 minutes later I am come across one of the words again in a sentence and turn to ask Kenny to explain to me what it means and he is clueless what it if he never heard it.  He can't pull it out of his head. 
Guys, I returned to those same two words 5 times each over the course of an hour...he was listening attentively as you know he always loves being read to...they were used in context, they were each explained very clearly 5 times each AND he could explain it in his own words each kidding and no exaggerating...and the 5th time he still couldn't pull it out of his brain...all in 1 hour.  It wasn't as if there was a break and we returned to it the next day and he forgot...a couple of times I used it within 5 minutes of the last time and he couldn't recall it...a total blank.  This is what we have continued to see for a long time at home...this is not an ELL kid who needs to hear a word many times to retain it when it is used in conversation or reading over the course of a few weeks, this is a child who can not recall 10 minutes later a word that he understood when initially explained and it was well defined for him AND he could explain its definition in his own words.  And 20 minutes later we hit the word again and it is like a totally new word, as if he never heard it.
Another thing in terms of "connecting the dots"...I explained what the word "preserve" means, not just that "preserves" are jams, jellies, vegetables, etc. that are canned but that preserve means to put aside or save something.  We talked about it from all directions, but 10 minutes later he could not connect that preserving...the definition of saving something...had been turned into a noun and "preserves" were canned items saved for eating later.  No connection for him at all, he can't seem to tie learned information together the way other kids can and this hinders him from using learning as building blocks to deeper understanding.
With reading this is slowing him down a lot...he can be told 10 times...literally...what a word is when it appears in a book and the next time he comes across it, it is as if it is a totally new word for him, even if he read it 5 times on the previous 2 pages...he has to stop and sound it out, and even then he stumbles in blending it together even though he has seen the word and been helped to sound it out correctly 5 previous times in the past 10 minutes.  It isn't "clicking".  I have seen him sound out a main character's name every single time he reads it in the book...over and over and over again and by the end of the book STILL can not glance at it and know what the word is.
He can explain what is going on in a story well, despite his inability to understand certain words...this is not a comprehension issue at all really.  It is not even really a vocabulary issue. 
He can not anticipate what a word is when reading...he can not use the context to fill in the blanks as he reads to move forward well. He has a good spoken vocabulary, surprisingly even better than some kids his own age despite his being here only 2 1/2 years.  But when he is reading a sentence and he comes across a word that he doesn't recognize, he doesn't have the ability to deduce what it might be even though he can sound out the beginning of the word or may have even used the word often himself in conversation.
I don't know if anyone reading this blog can relate to the above and maybe has dealt with some of the same issues with their own children, or maybe can throw out ideas about what might be going on.  This is frustrating all of us as Kenny is a really bright kid and doesn't present at first glance as anything other than an engaged and intelligent ESL child...but you are my experts and you all know what institutionalization can do to the brain.  Our school has never worked with a child like Kenny before and it is new for all of us.  If anyone out there finds that what is described above rings a bell, can you comment and let me know what we might be looking for or at?  I need a starting place and look to those of you who are experienced to maybe help us out.
In other news, Matthew and I have come down with a nasty cold.  Kenny had it but it seemed to mostly affect his eyes this past week with a little bit of cold symptoms but he said he felt basically fine.  Within 12 hours I went to feeling quite well to feeling really bad.  Fortunately we have antibiotic with us and I needed it already, as it is obvious I am developing a sinus infection along with it.  This stuff always hits me so fast and SO hard! I had hoped to avoid it while here, but no dice. Now I just hope it doesn't move into my lungs or I will be in real trouble.  Even Irina said you do not want to see a doctor here unless you have no other option, that even people who live here prefer to be treated elsewhere if at all possible as medical care here is sub-par, to say the least. Matthew doesn't have a fever but is the kind of kid who just gets really quite and tired when he is catching something...and he has laid around all day and went back to sleep after waking up this morning complaining of a headache.  Hope we all kick it before we head for Astana!
Now, since I am being Downer Debbie today, I was laying in bed this morning having my first real "I wish I were home" moment since getting here, and compiled a mental list of things I am tired of.  None are significant, none are all that big of a deal, but they are things I have noticed and wanted to share as we approach the 2 month mark of not sleeping in our own beds:
1)  I am tired of not fitted sheets and having the bottom sheet barely able to be tucked in well enough not to be pulled off in every direction through the night.
2) I am tired of each of us falling down while walking on ice.  It hurts and we are lucky we have had no broken bones yet.
3)  I am tired of stiff clothes from line drying.  I love dryer softened clothes and miss them!
4)  I am tired of being stared at every single place we go.  Everywhere.  Every day.  Every Moment.
5)  I am tired of cracks in ceilings and floors, of shoddy workmanship, of doors in our apartment with no latches so they never fully close and of stepping over door sills on the floor wherever there is a door.  I am not graceful, I am klutzy and a trip everywhere we go here.  In our apartment alone which is only about 2 years old and nicer than any apartment we have ever been in here we have plaster ceiling falling on us, pretty wallpaper peeling off walls, linoleum lifted off the floor enough to trip us, a toilet that rocks, almost every electrical outlet has pulled out of the wall by our simply removing a plug, a dresser drawer front fell off in my hand, walls are plastered and not painted so everything we accidentally brush up against leaves a white residue on our clothing, our table has had to be turned over twice and the legs tightened on it, and the cabinet facings are peeling off.  I feel sorry for people here who pay incredibly hard earned money for low quality goods and services.  Very little here is well made, nothing here is  very sturdy or makes me angry for them that even if they had the money to spend they would be hard pressed to find furniture that would last, or clothing that was extremely durable.
6)  I am tired of public toilets with no toilet seats.
7)  I am tired of feeling like life is in limbo, because it is and we are in some form of strange suspended animation here.
8)  I am tired of being tired.  I want to sleep a full night through on a comfortable mattress that I can not fold over on itself when flipping it to try and find a more comfortable way of sleeping.
9)  I am tired of worrying if the boys actually act like children in public, for here children are seen and not heard much and if the boys even giggle or run around when outside we get even more stares.
10) I am tired of web sites being blocked.
11)  I am tired of feeling like I am not being productive, of not having my usual tasks to take care of.
12)  I am tired of not driving for myself.
13)  I am tired of unidentifiable food in grocery stores.
14)  I am tired of a tiny front loader washer that is literally no more than 7" deep and 18" tall.  For a family of 5 (Right now) which includes 3 young boys whose clothes can't usually be worn twice because they are filthy, this means a TON of loads.
15)  I am tired of not seeing any grass or dirt.  Yesterday, for the first time, we were out and saw a patch of dirt and commented on how we had missed it.  Dumb, I know, but everything here has been covered in 4 inch sheets of ice or 3 foot high drifts of snow!  I miss brown!  Even dead grass brown!
And in order to end on a more positive note, here are things I like!!
1) I love having little markets within a 2 minute walk to get milk and eggs or a cold soda instead of being a15 minute drive from Walmart.
2)  I love the practicality of one set of toilets for both male and females.  2 or 3 places here there are bathrooms with fully enclosed stalls and it is for use by both men and women.  Smart, smart, smart...why in the world do we really need separate bathrooms other than for urinals?
3)  I love getting smiles from the people who have come to see us regularly at our little markets, it makes you feel the beginnings of being part of a community
4)  I love having currency, both coins and bills, that makes sense...the larger the amount, the larger the size of the coin or bill.  Makes sense, doesn't it?
5)  I love the metric system.  Tell me why the US hasn't adopted it ever?  Based on units of 10's...makes so much more sense.
6)  I love love love being with my family this much.  I love that we all hang out together all day long doing whatever it is that we are doing.  I am envious of old farm families who worked together and didn't separate all day long.
7)  I love the church bells ringing letting me know it is 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.  They always make us all stop and listen for a moment.  Beautiful!
8)  I love walking everywhere...or at least would if it were warmer!  The ability to get to several places easily because all is central is very nice and super convenient.
9)  I love realizing we can easily do without a lot of the junk in our lives as we live a more simplified version here.  I can see many things we move around in our house that are unnecessary and take up needless space.  I have joked about 3 pans, but we have done just fine with them and I honestly don't miss much from my own over-filled kitchen at home.  OK...maybe a decent can opener...
10) I love the children's shoes in the stores here, they have the absolute cutest styles of shoes and hats and I wonder why in America our shoes have to be so plain and ugly.
11) I love seeing beautiful women everywhere...well put together, well dressed, even if I could never be one (or truthfully would ever really want to be one).
12) I love cheap taxis. I wish we could get around our town as inexpensively, I might never own a car!  We can get across town(a 20 minute drive in traffic) for 400 Tenge which is $2.70 USD.  Astana will be a lot more expensive but it is nice here while we have it!
13)  I love the curtains and track system here.  Again, smart, smart smart...instead of brackets that's tick out from the side of the wall and can be loosened or bent by pulling a curtain open or closed, there are tracks in the ceiling and the curtains are suspended from there.
14)  I love Constitution Avenue.  There is nothing much there really, just a main walking thoroughfare through the heart of the city with a  few shops and restaurants alongside it.  But something about it is special, and I like it...really enjoyed it during the spring when I was here last time and walking it by myself, people watching while everyone was out enjoying the warmth.
15)  I love that Alexander is a super super good driver, safest one we have ever had and thankful we have HIM while here at this icy time of the year.
16)  I love seeing my children laugh and play together...all 5 of them.  It is my greatest joy.
See?  I came up with one extra "love" than "tired of" just so it wouldn't appear I was being all that cranky. 

And as I end this post the church bells have started ringing and will ring the next 10 minutes.  Nice way to end this one!


Kelly (from Houston!) said...

Cindy - in describing Kenny's learning issues you have described my 11 year old son's issues. He was adopted from Russia as an infant. What you describe is related to my son's ADD. Part of ADD is the inability to process and organize our thoughts. While my son is on his ADD medication at school, this problem of nothing "sticking" with him goes away. At night - when ADD medication wears off - he will again exhibit this problem. I cannot teach him new material in the evening. The school sends spelling words home to be learned as homework. We will go over and over a new word and it's meaning. I will come back to it 5 mintues later and my son cannot spell it or tell you what it means. While reading in the evening I can help him with the same word over and over..... Obviously for my son this is not related to being institutionalized since he was adopted at 9 months old. I could go on and on about my son's learning issues as it relates to this can be quite frustrating. Anyways - it is just something to consider.....

Anonymous said...

Cindy -

Re: #10 of the likes. You now have girls so might start to see some cute shoes (BTW some of my favorite online stores often have good deals ... email me if you're interested). OTOH it does depend on your idea of cute 'cos some of the styles are rather "interesting" these days. :-)

Debbie T. in Austin

Anonymous said...


Yes, I hear about that before from people with girls from China, it's related to lack of movement as babies, it's a "miswiring of the brain, I'll try to find the information and resources and e-mail it to you asap.


Michelle said...

Although Zeb is much younger than Kenny, I see some of the same things with him when I am trying to correct him. I tell him something and then a few minutes later I ask him and he can't remember. I can't decide if he is being sassy and willfull or if he truly can't remember or process these things. We do see times when he gets just totally overwhelmed and shuts down.

Dee said...

My daughter has a Central Auditory Processing Disorder [CAPD] and has a really hard time recalling things told to her verbally. However, if she draws a picture or at least writes out the definition, it helps. She is a "visual" learner.

She also dumps information out of her brain. The therapist said it's related to trauma. Alesia found as a small, abused child, that to cope, she would just dump the bad memories immediately, as a reflex, so she could deal with it all. It became a habit. We still deal with the aftereffects of this, although she does OK in school with an IEP.

Definitely have Kenny tested for learning disabilities. I bet he has ADD and possibly CAPD. Write a letter and formally ask the school to test him. Call a few days later. Be a pest. If they argue, threaten to hire a lawyer. I had to fight for 2 years to get my daughter even tested by the school - they hate doing it, because if the child is learning disabled they are legally obligated to modify the lessons for him. If he qualifies, he is also entitled to free therapy from the school system.

Re your being sick - ask Irina if they sell vitamins there. Buy a good multivitamin and take it, and take 1,000 mg. of Vitamin C every day. If you can't find vitamin C, try to at least eat lots of extra fruit. Pomegranates are a great source of antioxidants if you can find them. Grape juice is good, too. Pile on the vitamin C to help your body's immune system.

Also, see if you can find Melatonin or Valerian to help you sleep.


Anonymous said...

I can neither diagnose nor recommend a way to approach Kenny's teflon problem, but to anyone reading this blog who does not know Kenny, I can testify that the problem is not intelligence nor adaptability. I am amazed by the way he has mastered and uses English. Those of you who are relating because of your children will know that deficits in one area are not an indication of deficits in intelligence.

On a brighter note the meadowlarks are beginning to warble here. Not a whole song, but the notes that indicate spring will come. We have also had a taste of mud season. You may not come back to green grass, but you will come back to adobe mud, and not too soon for any of us who are tired of:
1. The absence of our dear friends, Team LaJoy,
2. The anticipation of rather than the reality of a complete LaJoy family,
3. Dom's laugh and insight (Dom, the bylaws committee is looking into the rules for quorum and recall),
4. Cindy's laughter and smiles,
5. Kenny's hugs and handshakes,
6. Matthew's quest for knowledge,
7. Josh's energy and friendship with Zac,
8. Angela and Oleysa, whom we have not met, but now cannot do without.
May you have no more snags in paperwork or deadlines.
May your health be restored swiftly.
May our love reach and surround you, and may God's blessing uphold you.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if we have quite the same things going on with our newest daughter, home at 11yrs in Nov. 2007, but I can relate to not connecting the dots. She does have similar issues concerning math, a ton of trouble memorizing math facts. Talk her through a problem, explain in many different ways, use manipulatives, drawings, guestures, etc. But ask her a simple math fact that we've just gone over, and she's clueless. She gets Title 1 math help at school, but still struggles. Granted, we need to be more consistent at home to help her, but at a loss as to how to help her grasp the idea of math. Did find a neat tool called "Math Wraps", which she practices on, saying the problem out loud as she wraps the cord around the correct answer...hoping it helps.

I often remind myself that she did not grow up in a family, so she doesn't have the background either that way or in living in our culture to always connect those dots in terms of logic. All four of our kids grew up together in the same private children's home in Guatemala. They didn't suffer any neglect or abuse, and were well taken care of, with consistent caregivers. Still, they didn't have the attention of a family. I know there are still reasons their brains might be wired a bit differently because of their early beginnings. Our boys seem to have little consequences from their early years without us. Our first daughter home, now five yrs in February, seems to have overcome much of those things we saw early on.

#2 is very verbal and fluent in social language, with some mistakes in tense, etc. But I'm sometimes surprised at what she still can't understand, which would seem logical. Am I expecting too much, as she's not had the background all these years that would help her connect more dots?

This is way too long, and maybe not even related to your concerns, but I'm being told HTML won't accept this much of a comment. To be continued, for what it's worth.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

I've always heard that it takes a good 5-7yrs before someone grasps a new language totally, all nuances, humor, etc. I'm sure that varies and is effected by the age of the learner. Our boys were 4yrs when they each came home. No schooling for 3yrs, then homeschooled K. Didn't notice difficulties with them, as they weren't thrust into academic language right away. Our first daughter home (aside from some goofiness/attention seeking issues) jumped right in, took hold of her learning right away. Wrote down every word she saw in the classroom..."exit", "pull to open", whatever! May have a little higher IQ than #2, but #2 very capable of learning. #1getting A's and B's with little extra help any more. Loves to read, which has helped tremendously in her vocabulary. #2 doesn't like to read or be read too, but we're doing it anyway! Still some obvious lapses with #1, but she's come a very long way. Personality comes into play, #2 is more of a specator, #1 is more of a participant. #2 needs to grasp the situation, that she needs to keep working very hard in order to keep catching up. She's taken more ownership of her learning this year, sometimes too much. Wants to do it herself, but obviously needs help when I check her work. Then I think, how hard this must be to lose everything you know, come to a new culture and language, have to work hard to understand and learn "the ropes" at home and at school. It's understandable they sometimes choose to shut it all down for a time and take a break. Just can't take too many extended breaks, or she'll never catch up or get even close to grade level.

Still more comments to make, so continued below.
Nancy continued

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry...I'm very intersted in all subjects related to adoption and language learning, as you can see.

Our daughters have had extra help in reading and math, and on some occasions they get help from classroom assistants...not nearly enough. #2 needing to ask for help, which she is content not to do. We have excellent teachers, but they expect a lot out of regular learners, and often don't consider how much language our girls are having to absorb and process in order to understand instructions, etc. Our girls are the first real ELL students in our district, so it's "hit and miss".

I talked to her about being embarrassed to be asking for help all the time. Yep, she is, so she just doesn't ask. Think about how hard it would be to constantly be telling people you needed help, didn't understand! I shared the example of meeting little gray-haired old ladies when I first moved to this town. I'd forget their names and was embarrassed to ask. A year later (did I mention they all looked alike to me?), it was REALLY embarrassing to ask! Connected that with her not asking for help, drew out a time line, used my hands to help describe distances, time lapses, etc. Whatever it takes to use different words to explain. This language learning requires tons of talk, varieties of methods...acting it out, drawing pictures, hand guestures, having them write it down, etc. I know you know much the same from your own experiences, and will or are already beginning that process once again for your girls. It's a fine balance between expecting a lot, giving them grace to "shut down" or take a learning break now and then, helping them and expecting them to take some ownership in their own progress. The only reason I even remotely considered NOT adopting another older child was knowing how very hard it was going to be for her to learn at school. If we were just at home and didn't need academics or outside social contact on a regular basis, it wouldn't be too big of a deal. They learn to communicate with their family fairly quickly, and their mistakes can just be chuckled over together. The added pressure of school achievement makes it difficult, as well as having a mom who forgets to trust God and starts projecting too far into the future. Some day, it would be nice if all of our kids could move out and function on their own. I'm quite certain they all will, it's just that we're realistic that we might have to adjust our expectations and time frames. Probably not, but it helps to keep that option open in my mind and to know that it's ok if that happens.

Hope you get some answers and the help he needs when you get home.

Nancy all through chatting
snow day in the Midwest again

Anonymous said...

Me again? Oh brother!

I'm not just trying to share our story, but hoping it will encourage you in your journey with your girls, coming home older than your sons. The journey is exciting, wonderful, amazing...but as you know, can sometimes get discouraging. Praying for easy transitions and all the help your kids need at school or in homeschooling.

One idea. If you haven't seen the game "Bananagrams", you might want to check it out. Fun scrabble game, where each person builds their own game in front of them. Maybe letter tiles alone might help your son connect. Or flash cards with words and pictures...though I know some words are hard to draw out. Pictionary? Guestures (the game)?

Nancy for the day

Anonymous said...

Yes, Kenny's issues sound very familiar. Check out Dianne Craft
(I believe she is in Denver or Aurora)

She mentions velcro vs. teflon as a description of what is happening to the information coming in but not sticking.In addition to different learning approaches, therapies, brain exercises, etc. she also recommends nutritional supplements to get their brains working better (ie. essential fatty acids, one thing that is really missing from ophanage diets and probably the birth mom's diet as well).

As for your colds, long shot I know, but any chance of getting lemons and ginger root? You can make a tea from it (tastes like Pledge but works great). If you can, grate a finger length of ginger, add the juice of one or two lemons, honey, and hot water. Drink a couple of cups per day wrap up in warm blankets to sweat out the toxins.

Is there a bontanical gardens there? I thought a friend of ours went there when in Petro. It would at least be warm and green.

God Bless,
Teresa F.

Anna said...

I didnt read the posts so forgive me if I repeat here. Say your word is preserves. Have him draw a picture of a jar of jam or you draw one for him to color in. What about a life "preserver" make it into a flashcard or a new kind of dictionary of his own where he can look up pictures and the words with the definitions. If he is a visual person this and the kinsthetic parts may help it "stick" better. Just a thought.

Mishelle said...

Hi Cindy- You are describing my daughter, Bakha, a little bit. One thought--see if Shriner's has a neuropsychologist on staff who can evaluate Kenny the next time he's there. A good neuropsychologist can get to the root of issues and offer lots of helpful tips and ideas. Another thought, try fish oil supplements--highly recommended for such issues, even by some western docs. Good luck! Mishelle

Kelly and Sne said...

Sorry that you are sick and homesick too. I fell ill while in Kaz and it was NO fun... especially thinking that you may have to see a Dr. locally. The good news is that you can get all sorts of drugs over the counter there so if your Dr. at home or webmd can diagnose you, you shouldn't have a problem with self-treatment. Also, I see other commenters had mentioned this but you may want to try teaching Kenny in a different way. For example, have him write down the new things he learns in a notebook (and add pictures or whatever embellishments he needs). I know that is how I retain things - by writing them down. If I just hear them verbally I never remember. Just a thought - everybody learns a little differently.

Anonymous said...

You should read a book called Healing ADD by Daniel Amen; he describes 6 different types of ADD, and it could be your son has one of those types.

Anonymous said...

This problem sounds very much like this

What it boils down to is that when a child is adopted into a family and loses his first language, his spoken language may seem to be fine, but because he has lost the language building blocks that are needed for higher level cognitive thinking, he becomes unable to keep up understanding what he is supposed to be learning. While his social language seems fine, his language that allows him to understand things has been stunted.

Elizabeth J.

Lindsay said...

Sounds very like auditory processing disorder (APD or CAPD) or dyspraxia or dyslexia.

I'd say test for these learning difficulties and short term memory issues first.

Dyspraxia is to do with motor control. Have you noticed anything - coordination, general clumsiness, fine motor control problems (handwriting difficulites or problems colouring in neatly) which makes you think he may have a motor control problem? Dyspraxics can have problems with language sequencing, memory work and planning (so issues with spelling, maths and reading). Some dyspraxics may have speech problems too: apraxia. Dyspraxics can also have problems copying sound and have many issues re: concentration, following sequences of instructions etc. which again leads to the false label of ADD. Dyspraxia can be undiagnosed in PI children due to the fact that many of the signs (problems listening, following instructions, interrupting, impulisivity and so on) and often seen as typical PI behaviour or ADD.

APD is about how he processes the sounds he hears. It is not a hearing loss, but you need an audiologist to test him: it will help determine how he is processing sound and where the problem lies. If he does have APD then a hearing issue (perhaps related to his cleft) or lots of background noise (like a classroom) will make it harder for him to learn. A proper hearing assessment will be able to detect not only if his hearing is on a normal spectrum, but if he hears sound blends in words and sentences. An assessment by a speech therapist (speech-language patholgist may be the new term) will also be useful for you in determining why he has issues.

You should also have his short term memory assessed assessment to see if the difficulty is there.

Ask the school to test his reasoning, reading age, sequencing etc. If you see a big discrepency between his reasoning and his performance it can be a sign of a learning disability such as dyslexia (hard to be accurate with an EAL student so see a professional ed. psych). Contact your local international school whilst you are there or in Astana. Perhaps they can suggest a local ed. psych who speaks English who can test. It will cost you a lot less than in the States.

I would still also tie this to his English learning. Lots of IA children have good verbal/conversational skills but have a really, really difficult time with anything connected to academic processing as the language is different. They have social language but not the academic (aargh - there is another name for this kind of language, but I can't remember it just now.) Remember too that he is not like a normal EAL learner as he has NO fluent language to set context due to the language attrition. Most language learners have a fluent first language supported at home where they can contextualise new vocabulary. Kenny can't so he will have issues with context and it will affect his understanding.

You may have 2 issues here: EAL and a learning disability. In terms of language he is still a toddler and has only been learning for a couple of years. His conversation may be sophisticated but his grasp of phonics etc will be sketchy. Even the alphabet he is now working from is different from the Cyrillic he was used to seeing around him (and I think you said he was functionally illiterate in his first language too?) That really makes me suspect a learning difficulty, rather than just patchy education because he was in an orphanage.

Another thing to consider is whether there are PTSD issues affecting him from his time in the orphanage. Maybe there are triggers for him just now which are making his situation worse and exacerbating his learning problems? Lots of IA children are wrongly diagnosed as ADD when they are still hypervigilant and quite unable to focus on the learning as so much of their mind is focused on everything else.

Good luck and I hope you find some answers for him soon.

Anonymous said...

Cindy -

See if the place with the carrot salad might have something like KimChee, spicy cabbage salad. Or if anyone there has hot peppers for sale. That might help things. In the meantime, tea and honey (if you can find it) ditto lemons. If you haven't recovered by next week - try to find Chinese or Korean food in Astana for the spices. The U.S. Embassy also maintains a list of English speaking doctors, should you need it. Also, don't forget that some things may be available there over the counter, more things than here...for instance, antibiotics. Check a local pharmacy for some cold remedies, again if not available in Petro, then there should be something in Astana. Take care of yourselves! Vegas

Anonymous said...


I agree with Lindsay.
This adoption resource website is fantastic:

Problems like Kenny's were discussed in the adoption parenting group (there's a link in the website), It's just for parents with kids already at home and they are fantastic, there are a lot of very experienced parents and professionals in the group and it's worth joining. They discuss a different issue every forthnight.
With 5 kids you might find it useful.


Lindsay said...

... and your 15 things that you are tired of - sounds like Slovakia :)

Hope you are all feeling better soon. Sometimes you really do feel better for a good wallow and a good vent!

Kelly(from Houston) said...


I wish my child went to your school. I fought to get my child tested through the school system and FINALLY they agreed. They did not test for many of the issues described in your comment. Eventually I went out and paid quite a bit to have him tested by a reputable education therapist/ diagnostician. In addition to ADD, they identified some of the issues outlined in your comments. What was my next big battle? Getting the school to READ the report regarding my son's learning disabilities. They flat out would not accept it because it was not prepared by them! In addition to ADD medication (which has made a huge improvement) I have to take him to an educational therapist on my own and HOPE the school will take many of the suggestions. In my opinion our school is not equipped or willing to handle learning disabilities - especially if your child is able to get by with C's. I was not able to get a 504 plan for my child. I thought about the lawyer route - but even if I won - would I get them to successfully implement it? Is this strictly a problem with an IA child? I don't think so....wish I could stay home and homeschool.....

Christina said...

It is hard to diagnosis this stuff... :) The school can only do so much, and the speech/language pathologist might not be of any help (many times they just ask the teacher what to least at my school this is what happens) My oldest has some of these issues, more like he remembers things like a movie reel... unable to skip to the relevant info and has to verbally say all info stored on that subjects reel... we are seeing an improvement, he doesn't struggle with grades in school (making it harder to diagnosis a solution). I feel that a CAPD diagnosis could be something worth looking into.... many kids with ADD have this CAPD disorder also, so an ADD possibility might not be far off... I have researched the CAPD some, and have found that the "tips" can be using visual clues to "trigger" the information... Like listing out directions (with pictures for kids who struggle with reading, and so having him draw meanings can be helpful... As for him not remembering how to say people's names, THAT IS ME, and always was me in school, dreading the out loud reading b/c I can't remember how to say the name of the character... but I now have a masters degree, and still forget how to say names of places... its annoying but after school it rarely shows as I don't often read out loud in public :)

Hope this helps! Love and Blessings!

Mark said...

Do you ever catch Kenny appearing to daydream but he can't be immediately called out of it? Seeming to stare quite a bit, even though its only for a few seconds at a time? Being confused over what he was doing that seems just plain simple - ie walking to another room to get his shoes and he forgets why he went into the other room? Smacking his lips or picking at his skin or clothing? Unexplained changes in breathing, heart rate, vision, or body temperature (ie goosebumps when its warm out)? If you answered yes to even one of those you should also consider epilepsy. In particular, absence, simple partial, and complex partial seizures. Absence are the toughest to tell if they are happening because they rarely last more than 3 seconds but they wreak havoc on recall in school - a child is usually in school for 4 or 5 years before a teacher finally notices the problem isn't deliberate inattention. With complex partial seizures Kenny will likely get a "funny" feeling - and thats about the best anyone is ever going to be able to describe it to you. In some cases the feeling will be outside of your body - its most common for it to be outside of the head and stomach. Unless he tells you he is having this feeling you won't know he's in a seizure, even if you are talking to him at the time - in many people its similar to deJaVu. These seizures have a tendency to complete erase your memory of what you were doing during and just before them.

*If its epilepsy, and he's had it all his life, he may not realize the "funny feeling" isn't normal for everyone. Another thing that is certainly far from diagnostic is that people with uncontrolled epilepsy seem to tap their fingers absentmindedly - no one knows why as its not due to seizures, but the need/desire to tap goes away when they are fully controlled by medicine

wilisons said...

HI Cindy,

My oldest adopted as an "infant" or more likely a toddler has many of these same issues at 6. She has been in language therapy for 3+ years in the system and we have seen some gains. She still struggles with auditory processing too. In addition, she was just tested by the school system for other learning issues. The only other thing that came up was working memory. Not considered enough to be eligible for much BUT in my opinion as a teacher, a good working memory is a fairly good indicator of how a child will learn in school.

I have looked into a program called Audioblox that might retrain some of the early loss she experienced. Not committed to it yet but we'll see what the rest of the school year brings.

Hope you can get some answers when you return,

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Kenny's problem is with his working memory - kids with this problem get around issues by retrieving knowledge from their long-term memory. If you told Kenny to look up a word in the dictionary, and he went straight to the dictionary, would he have difficulty remember the word to be looked up? Does he have difficulty completing math problems that involve more than one step?
When you ask Kenny a question or to explain something does he have trouble organizing his thoughts, even though he appears to have no trouble when he is initiating the subject? That's a sign of a language disability. Incidentally, a deficit with working memory can result in a language disability.

Can he fully understand verbs? If not, you might want to look into SLI. That might be tricky to diagnose as that would entail him speaking like a beginning English Learner - ie "He like me" instead "He likes me"

Cathy Hartt said...

Cindy - These are things we test for on a common neurologic exam. I am by no means a neurologist but it is probably worth having it checked out.

Unknown said...

As a special Ed teacher
I wont even try to diagnosis what might be the problem, but you as a mom know something's not right, so..
When you get home and are settled, set up a well exam with the peditrician. And bring a list of all the things you have noticed with Kenny,have his eye sight checked as well as his hearing and ask for a neurological examination too. Also ask the school for a testing to be done. They are required to by law. Ask his teacher at school to what she has observed also..
just my thoughts

mom pup, pepper. said...

I have gained a lot by reading all of the comments since our son seems to have many of these issues. He just turned 4 (home 2 years from Kaz with Early Intervention/IEP pretty much from the beginning). He still definitely struggles with language processing. He can't seem to connect the tell him to sit in a chair and he knows what to do...ask him what you do with a chair and he has one answer-broke it-don't know where that comes from. This happens alot. If we don't cover things specifically he cannot intuitely put the 2 things together. From a milestone checklist, he looks fine - he can make a 5 word sentence so SLP thinks he's on track. Problem is it just may be the same sentence over & over to a question...never being able to substitute one thought for another as an answer to a question. I so hope you get answers soon...I have been inspired to get additional help for our little guy. He's so smart and I just want him to meet his full potential. Take care.

Mishelle said...

Cindy-I have one more thought. Have you had Kenny tested for anemia lately? We know from the research being done by SPOON's medical team that IA kids are at high risk for anemia AFTER they've come home and had a growth spurt. During their growth spurts, they may use up their limited iron reserves and then become iron-deficient. Symptoms of iron-deficiency can include cognitive issues, as well as pale skin, fatigue, low energy. It's an easy blood test. And something to keep in mind for your girls, too. Mishelle

Dean and Janie said...

Hi Cindy, I read your entry but don't have time to ready everything else that was written to you. If it helps, i do know of a group called Heart of the Matter Seminars that has seminars for teachers on how to deal with children who have been adopted. They may have the info you are looking for.
Best Wishes.
PAP from Tennessee

Don, Michelle, Zachary, and Alexander said...

It sounds like Kenny is having an issue with processing the information and turning it into long term memory. Graphic organizers can be really helpful. If Kenny tries some out, you will find that he will respond better to some than others. There are a ton of free organizers that you can get online. Pick one that would work for vocab and you can write the word in before the lesson, with Kenny filling in the definition/example right after you exaplain it. Sometimes I read with my students, and stop periodically and have then draw something that was important from the chapter. This visual cue could help Kenny to recall some of the vocab/information. Also highlighter tape is a wonderful thing, and pulls off of books easily (and is reusable). There are colored overlays available as well and it has been proven that some colored overlays help children process information better than without it. I do agree that bringing this information to the pediatrician would be good idea, as well as any information the teacher can give you as well.
I completely understand your list today as well. It is so easy to take the little things for granted, and boy are they missed in Kaz. Best wishes

Lori said...

Oh my, so many things to process!! And amazingly valid, each and every one! I won't lie, I don't envy you the task of working through and discovering issues. I've seen so many parents go through this so many times...hen again, if anyone is up to the challenge, it's certainly Mama LaJoy!

At first glance, I also would have suggested CAPD, but I also want to through something else out for you to Google and see if anything sounded familar--orthographic dyslexia. Dyslexia in and of itself is sort of an umbrella term for reading disability, but there are groupings. MOST diagnosed with dyslexia deal with phonological dyslexia (not just limited to the common backward letters and such) but orthographic is different--more rare and tougher to work with.

I certainly cannot diagnose anything...but just usggest some avenues to travel.

Hope you all feel better soon!

Marita said...

Cindy, I've been following your blog for a couple of years and love reading about your family. I found you through the Kryzyg yahoo group when I was dreaming of adopting again. I am the mother to 2 girls from Belarus.

Just a thought on Kenny - you might want to check out Asperger's. My nephew has it and has similar recall issues. I know he has problems recalling math facts and spelling. You can tell him a math fact and in just a few minutes, he has no idea what it is and has never heard it before. Although sometimes the oddest clue can pop the answer to the surface. My mother tutors him and many times his sister is along busy in the other room. 7x7 is a real struggle for him. He can never give her the answer, but his sister, who is in first grade knows that it's 49, just because she's overheard their lesson and will call it out from the other room. So one day when she wasn't there, Mom asked him what 7x7 was and he had absolutely no idea. My mom said, 'What would the answer be if your sister was here?' and he immediately said '49'. So it's in there somewhere, he just can't pull it out.

Your family is in my thoughts and prayers for a safe journey home and for your family's transition to be the best it can for everyone.