Worcester State University


Language disorders in internationally adopted children

Three faculty members are conducting research into an area that until now has received little attention: identifying language disorders in internationally adopted children.


According to Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Linda Larrivee, Ph.D., international adoptions are becoming more common in the United States, with an estimated 20,000 in 2002 alone.


Around 10 percent of internationally adopted children will have difficulties learning English. But Larrivee and fellow researchers Susanna Meyer, Ph.D., and Emily Soltano, Ph.D., say there is no standard procedure for determining which of these children will likely outgrow the problem and which ones have an actual language disorder.


“It’s a new field of study,” Larrivee said. “As of today, there are no guidelines for identifying children from non-English speaking countries who need early intervention. Our goal is to identify the earliest, most robust pieces of evidence that a disorder exists so these children can get the help they need.”


Research shows that early language difficulties in children often lead to later academic problems, explained Meyer, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. “Some children can’t afford to wait,” she said. “Early intervention is important for the child’s academic and overall development.”


The trio’s interest in the subject is the outgrowth of a single longitudinal study conducted by Larrivee and Meyer. “We realized that the child, a family member, had a language disorder after being in the United States for only six months,” Meyer recalled. Because of her expertise in the field, she was able to get appropriate services for the child. But many other children are not so fortunate.


 “Parents whose adopted children are later diagnosed with language disorders have told me, ‘Oh, I wish I had known so we could have done something earlier,’” Meyer said. “Unfortunately, a lot of children fail miserably if they don’t get the early intervention.”


Recognizing the need for early indicators of language disorders, Meyer, Larrivee, and Soltano teamed up in 2007 to develop comprehensive research into the topic. With support from WSC Faculty Mini-Grants, they plan to recruit 20 internationally adopted children ages one through five for their study. The children will be evaluated twice at the WSC Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic—once within six months of their arrival in the United States and then six months after the initial evaluation. Testing sessions will be audio and videotaped for later analysis. 


Their research will also include a national survey this academic year to gather information about the topic from speech language pathologists across the country.


Their biggest challenge to date has been finding enough subjects for their research. “Six children have participated so far,” said Soltano, associate professor of psychology. “Some patterns are beginning to emerge, but we don’t have enough data yet to know what the indicators are.”


Families who have adopted young children from non-English speaking countries are encouraged to contact the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic if they are interested in participating in the study.


“If we find that the child needs help or services, we will make sure that parents know how to access those services,” Larrivee said. “And if the child has no language disorders, the family will have peace of mind and the satisfaction of knowing that they made a significant contribution to this important research.”


For more information, contact Susanna Meyer at 508-929-8562.


Worcester Statement, fall 2009

Related Links

DataBridge © WSC, 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602
Phone: 508-929-8000