Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Schooling Older Adoptees

. . . is hard. It's really hard. Malnourishment is hard on a developing brain. It creates what we call swiss cheese brain. These kids astound us frequently with the things they understand. (Isaac has a firm grasp on figurative speech although he has a very small vocabulary.) That's the cheese. Then there are other things that we think they know or should know and they don't. Same boy just learned his shapes half a year ago. That's the holes.
They also experience what we call the Trap Door Effect. Some days it seems like a trap door in their brain has opened and quite a bit has fallen out. What they knew two days ago is now just gone. But tomorrow it will mysteriously be back. It's fruitless to fight the trap door effect and it's unwise to give a child responsibility who is experiencing the effect.

I spend a significant amount of mental energy each week trying to figure out a better way to school my adoptees. Did I not explain the formula well? Should I have explained it a different way? Maybe a visual aid would have helped them understand better?
I've had to get creative. Neither of my school-age adoptees are reading fluently. Maya, who has been reading for 3 years now, made it up to a 2nd grade reading level and then progress just stopped. For a full year she didn't get any faster or any more fluent. Still sounding out words. I kept thinking it would click and she'd take off, but it didn't and she hasn't. So, I decided to go back to phonics instruction.

I've learned a lot in the process.
  • I've learned that progress takes a lot longer with children whose brains were previously malnourished.
  • I've learned to lower my expectations so that I'm not eternally frustrated.
  • I've learned I have to rely on the Lord daily for patience and grace.
  • I've learned that audio book classics are a great way to build vocabulary and improve grammar skills for a non-reader.
  • I've learned that talking to people who haven't adopted about these issues doesn't help and almost always makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong.
  • I've learned that talking to other adoptive parents about these issues helps a lot and always makes me relax and realize I'm not alone.
  • I've learned that character and godliness should be my top priorities of homeschooling. Academics aren't everything.


heartchild said...

I love this post. Thank you.

MommaofMany said...

I am dealing with lots of swiss cheese myself. Thanks for keeping it real!

jmlyons said...

Thanks for the post - I agree and completely understand! Sometimes I really wonder if things in our home are getting through to our boys. But, then God reminds me that HE alone knows their hearts and is in control. But, we see the cheese and the holes. :}

dkt said...

You described it very well!!! Thank you!! If you ever come across ideas that work, I would LOVE for you to share them on your blog.

Isn't it wonderful, though, to be able to homeschool and have the option of immediately switching gears for our adopted ones, when something just isn't working--rather than going through a school board? I have been so thankful so many times concerning this issue in particular, for homeschooling

Renee said...

GREAT post!!

Jennie Lou said...

I'm so glad you shared this experience! We have had the same experience but I have never really read much about it. Are there any good articles out there that could give a better understanding?

Larissa said...

Amen, sister. May God bless you.

Faith said...

Good post BUT this isn't just an adoptive family problem. There are TONS of adoptive families who would not relate to you at all. I would have been one of those until Isaiah came home. That malnurishment does a doozy on the brain for sure, I can't even imagine what it's like for your's since they were so much older than mine when they came home! You are doing amazing though Ginger! What a great mom you are!


Ginger said...

I did assume this was a common issue w/ Liberian children. Am I wrong? :(

K O'Brien said...

I empathize, as I am in the same situation with God-selected children. Add to the malnourishment a host of other emotional damages... home schooling is both the best and hardest choice. God will continue to guide us as we attempt to equip these children for life in the U.S.A. Mine are from Russia and Guatemala. Damages know no continental boundaries.

Janet said...

I think you are assuming correctly Ginger. We have two adopted sons from Liberia and I experience the same thing continually.

Thank you for sharing this - it's so good to know I'm not alone. Sometimes my children even recognize this about themselves and it seems sad to hear them say "I just don't know why I can't remember that".

Thanks for the encouragement.

Robin said...

Ginger, I read this post the other day and it brought tears to my eyes because you captured so well what homeschooling my adoptee looks like. Seriously, I immediately called my mom and read it to her. She said "wow, you could have written that!" She then encouraged me to print it off so I could have it to remind myself that I am not the only one who deals with swiss cheese and trap doors - lol. FWIW, my little girl is from Haiti. She came home at 4 and is 7 now. We have been teaching shapes, colors, up and down, top and bottom, numbers, letters, etc, etc, for three years now. Sometimes she knows them, sometimes she doesn't. It takes a long time for something to "cement".
Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Janet said...

Great idea about printing this off - I'll keep it in the front of my homeschool binder.

Dusti said...

It is so true that talking to those who haven't experienced or don't try to understand make us feel like we're doing something wrong, I know this.. but sometimes I forget :D . I don't think this is just Liberian issue, I think it can be any of the issues common in children that are adopted, malnutrition, neglect, prenatal drug abuse, etc.

Thanks for the great post!

I've missed seeing you around in other places!

Lisa said...

All six of my adopted children were from the foster care system - no foreign countries, no institutional care. I can, however, completely relate to this post because we've had the swiss cheese effect going on since they hit school age. I am now homeschooling, but literally tried every single other option I could before I did this - we started at parochial school, then moved to public (where we were promised special ed. services), then went to a smaller, charter school (still public, but in another county where their sp.Ed services were doubled and a much smaller environment), then home. I was sure it was just the environment because they all have the alphabet soup dx's and just nothing seemed to work. The sad thing is that they all seemed so bright as toddlers/preschoolers (well, all but one). All of them were placed with us at extremely young ages - the oldest was 4 - and all of our older, bio-kids were excellent students so they had good role models around here. This goes so much deeper than just malnutrition. I'm sure my young ones were born to mothers who ate garbage (considering what other toxic substances they used while pregnant, I'm sure the fast food was the best thing they did). I know they aren't learning at home the way I want them to, but at least they aren't being inundated with all of the other distractions/trash the school systems are offering up as "education" today.

Thank you for this post, it made me realize that I am NOT alone. I read people's blogs about homeschooling and I usually end up depressed because we are so far from ideal (I hate to even say that n--mal word) and I want more for my kids!!!

Anonymous said...

4 of my 7 children are adopted. However, it is my biological son who has the swiss cheese effects. We knew in-utero that he would have brain damage. Have you considered brain state conditioning? We did and it worked amazingly well.