By Robin Hilborn, Family Helper editor

This section is based on an article by David Brodzinsky and Cynthia Steiger titled "Prevalence of Adoptees Among Special Education Populations" (Journal of Learning Disabilities, Oct. 1991).

They were following up on earlier research on how adoptees were overrepresented in various populations. For example, Kenny et al (1967) and Silver (1970, 1989) noted that the number of adopted children in populations with learning disabilities was disproportionately high—about four times what you would expect. In the U.S. 2.5% of all children were adopted.

Brodzinsky and Steiger confirmed this, finding that there were more adoptees than you would expect among 7,000 New Jersey school children classified as neurologically or perceptually impaired, or emotionally disturbed. (These are classifications used to place children in special education.) Adoptees accounted for 5% to 7% of the impaired or disturbed students. That's three to four times what you would expect, given their representation in the general population.

What does this imply for educational and clinical intervention? In the opinion of Brodzinsky and Steiger, adoption is often overlooked as a factor in a child's problems. Too often it is assumed that placing a child as an infant ensures that the family will be able to avoid the complexities and conflicts associated with adoption. Yet even early-placed adoptees (who know they were adopted) experience feelings of loss, typically starting at six to eight years old. They respond with affective and behavioural changes such as withdrawal, uncommunicativeness, sadness, anger, oppositional behaviour, aggressiveness. Such children may end up in special ed classes.

These changes are best understood as an expression of the child's grief over adoption-related loss. Educators and parents need to provide a supportive environment within which the child can work through his or her grief.

A further implication: children with learning disabilities not only have trouble processing academic information, but also show similar problems in personal areas, including the fact of their adoption. They often misperceive and distort information about their adoption, blaming themselves for their relinquishment. A belief that the birthmother surrendered them because they were "damaged" or "too difficult to handle" compounds the self-esteem problems typical in special education students.

The researchers wondered if adoptees might be overrepresented in other populations, besides the neurologically and perceptually impaired, and emotionally disturbed. What about those with mental retardation, for example? Brodzinsky and Steiger speculate that to the extent that adoptees experience more prenatal and perinatal complications, they may be born with greater neurological impairment, leading to mental retardation.

The authors saw the need for more research: to provide effective prevention and remediation services for adoptees in special education, it is imperative that we understand better the circumstances leading to their academic and behavioural maladjustment.

They concluded that adoption increases the child's risk for adjustment problems, and that problems that often co-occur with adoption (e.g. learning disabilities) can make it hard for the child to realistically perceive the circumstances of his or her past and present life. In turn, these distorted beliefs are likely to complicate the resolution of adoption-related grief, as well as other adoption adjustment issues.



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
You may reproduce this item with the credit:
"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.