This is our new series on how to navigate the educational needs of adopted children. In this series, I talk as both a teacher and parent of adopted children. What is so different about educating the child who is adopted?
The idea for this series came this week because we got an email from my oldest child’s school. The message said, “Your child has been nominated for an award by her teachers for being a goal-directed and resilient individual….” I saw it first thing in the morning and told them, and our kids’ beamed as they got ready for school. And the youngest had to add her bit, “But Ma! I’m the really strong one in the family. I should have got it too!”
Later, I mentioned the award to a friend and talked about how much support we receive from our children’s schools. A few minutes later, she called back and asked if a friend of a friend of a friend could call me for some pointers. We Indians are used to this, aren’t we? We worry so much about what a professional might say that we’d rather talk to a friend, several times removed. This parent, too, had adopted an older child, and there were some questions about her child’s education. This is not the first time this has happened to me. After all the questions and discussions, parents always end with, “Please, can you keep it to yourself? Our child is a good kid and smart too but has some difficulties. We just want to find the right help.”
For us Indians, that fear of what others may say is hardwired into us. “Will our child get labeled? Will others point out that our child is not smart? Will others find fault with us and say it is our mistake?” In a sense, we protect our children and ourselves from unnecessary opinions. We place so much importance on education that we see it as a failure if our kids don’t achieve academic success.
Some of my friends who have only biological children and haven’t been around someone who was adopted ask me if it is even necessary to talk about the education of adopted children as something different? When I answer yes, they wonder what could be different about education for adopted children? Well, the difference is in the factors that relate to children’s lives before and after adoption, their learning and mental health needs, the necessary support and intervention services, and lastly, parental expectations.
One of the most common questions I get asked is “What does our children’s lives before adoption have to do with their current educational needs? After all, I’m providing them with the opportunities and the means to learn, opportunities that they should know to utilize so they have a different life from what they would have had otherwise!”
The early years of a child’s development are critical because the experiences and relationships formed during this time are the basis for their future success, whether in academics or emotional wellbeing. So the idea that children’s prior experiences, their relationships, the care and stimulation they received don’t matter because they now have access to everything needed to succeed is not valid.
When they express concern about their child’s needs, a few parents say they are told not to disparage their children just because they are adopted. Adopted or not, it is a common phenomenon in India to deny that a child has any learning or emotional need. It is a disservice to our children if we stop advocating for them because of our fear of others’ comments. When we identify that our children need more support in some areas, we are not finding them inadequate. On the other hand, we’re working to improve the quality of their lives.
What things do you need to keep in mind about your child’s life before the adoption?
- The socioeconomic strata of the child
- Length of stay at the institution
- The quality of care at the institution
- Birth history
- History of trauma
You may get some of the following information from the child’s records, but other details you’ll gather from their accounts as they live with you.
Why does this information matter?
In the first place, it helps us parents have reasonable expectations! And on days when reasonable expectations don’t work, we can remind ourselves that our children are struggling because of these factors. Then, it helps us let educational goals take a back seat to mental health goals because, at that moment, our children are not thinking about their studies.
Secondly, parents can prepare their children for challenging situations that may arise in the school. Comments from other kids, specific assignments (especially those about families), or peer interactions may trigger the adopted child. A better-informed parent can help their child navigate these pitfalls.
Thirdly, it helps us advocate for our children in schools and colleges. Our educational institutions are not yet well aware of trauma-informed teaching practices. Teachers and administrators may be kind, but adopted children need more than kindness as they grow into adulthood. Well-informed parents know to ask for specific support for their children and find relevant services like tutoring, counseling, and even medication. With the help of teachers and other service providers, they can explore career options and work on building necessary skills.
Fourthly, it helps us set guidelines for managing behaviour and discipline.
Next week, we’ll talk about factors in our children’s lives before adoption that may impact learning.