By Robin Hilborn, Family Helper editor

Is it nature or nurture? What has the most influence on an adopted child's personality, intelligence and eventual success in life?

Many studies have shown that adoptees tend to have a higher incidence of attention deficit problems (ADD), and learning disabilities, than children born and raised in biological families. Children with ADD have learning problems because they are extremely distractible, impulsive and have poor social skills. They may also be hyperactive (ADHD).

ADD/ADHD is usually found in 3% to 5% of the general population but various studies have found it in 25% to 33% of the adopted population.

Larry Silver in his 1993 book The Misunderstood Child: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities stated, "The incidence of adoption in children and adolescents who have a learning disability is five times higher than would be expected from the national norms for adoption. The same incidence is found with ADHD."

He speculated on the risk factors. Adopted children were often born to very young mothers, who as a group risk getting poor prenatal care. Sometimes they deny their pregnancy, get poor nutrition, use dangerous chemical substances and are under a lot of stress. A difficult birth could damage the baby's nervous system; and lower birth weight seems to predispose some children to learning problems. A primary cause of unplanned pregnancies is impulsivity and poor judgment, traits often related to ADHD and several learning disabilities and which have a strong genetic component. The young mother herself may have ADHD or other learning disabilities.

As for children adopted from Third World countries, Silver states the incidence of LD and ADHD may be higher than in domestic adoptions—often mothers got little or no care and may have been malnourished. The baby too is often malnourished before adoption, and proper intake of food is critical during fetal life and the early months of life if the brain is to develop properly.

While parents-to-be shouldn't give up the idea of adopting, they need to keep in mind that certain issues may crop up over the years because of heredity or prenatal care. They should try to learn as much as possible about the birthparents, the pregnancy, and the life of the baby between delivery and placement. Also, the earlier you can detect inheritable problems, the sooner the treatment.

On the plus side, Stanley Turecki pointed out in The Difficult Child (1989) that a difficult temperament is a normal personality type. 10% of all children are hard to raise—they're demanding, hard to please and display intense and often negative reactions. They can make their parents feel angry, inadequate or guilty. However, it has been found that these children are especially creative and intelligent, with good verbal skills.

In summary, studies by Silver (1970, 1989), Brodzinsky and Steiger (1991) and others show that adopted children are at an elevated risk for learning disabilities.

One dissenting opinion appeared in the study by Sally J. Wadsworth et al (Journal of Learning Disabilities, Nov. 1993). In "Cognitive Abilities of Children at 7 and 12 Years of Age in the Colorado Adoption Project" they found that, for "easily placed" adopted children, there was little or no evidence for an increased risk of learning disabilities or school achievement problems during middle childhood. They compared the achievement and cognitive test scores of 444 adopted and non-adopted children. The adoptees were adopted within one month of birth and were "easily placed", a euphemism for white newborns with no known disabilities. The testing found only small differences between the groups, within the normal range of variation.



The challenge of school for the adoptee
School issues your child will face
Help your child deal with racism
When birds don't flock together
Should you tell the teacher?
You can give an adoption talk
Language development is key

Learning disabilities

What are learning disabilities?
Detect learning disabilities early
Cope with your child's LD
Brodzinsky on learning disabilities
Do adoptees need special ed classes?
Are LDs inherited?

Special needs

Accept your child's special needs
FAS: Friendly school environments
Helping students with FAS
ADHD and the school system
Manage your ADHD child in school
Strategy for the parent advocate
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"From Family Helper," ________________________________________
First published in Family Helper No. 45, "Adoption Goes To School", ISBN 0-9733470-4-X. Adapted in part from Post-adoption Helper No. 7, "Adoptive Parents' Guide to Your Child in Primary School", edited by Jennifer Smart.