1. Nelson, Nickola Wolf PhD, Editor
  2. Butler, Katharine G. PhD, Editor Emerita

Article Content

Is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on whether you're pouring or drinking. - Bill Cosby1


Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be. - George Carlin2


Adopting children from abroad is a serious issue. It makes us think of brave parents and braver still children who come together to forge a family with hope for a happy future, tempered with concerns about potential challenges ahead. This issue of Topics in Language Disorders addresses questions about the nature of those challenges and the prognosis for successful language and communication development in internationally adopted children.


Our selection of these two opening quips from respected contemporary commentator-comedians (though sadly, George Carlin died in 2008) is meant to minimize neither the serious nature of international adoption nor the conditions leading up to it. Rather, it is to highlight the nature of competing forces of hope and caution-both of which can be called realistic according to the evidence presented by the authors in this issue. Cosby's quotation triggers awareness of the need to contemplate multiple perspectives when deciding whether specialized language assessment and intervention are needed; Carlin's quotation triggers awareness of children's and families' large capacities for coping with challenges regardless.


Practical implications of the articles in this issue relate to whether the half-empty or half-full perspective is more justified, given the goal to prevent errors of either over-or underidentification. Theoretical implications relate to the nature of language acquisition in general but especially to sequential language learning when a child's exposure to his or her first language is limited by adverse preadoptive conditions and generally absent postadoptive exposure.


Consistent with a need for realistic caution and monitoring, several authors describe the serious risk factors-both biological and environmental-that make it realistic to expect that children exposed to adverse early conditions may face extra developmental hurdles. Ladage, from a medical perspective, describes the range of preplacement conditions that predispose children to biological risks associated with language difficulties and other developmental challenges. Wilson, from a social-emotional perspective, addresses attachment as a foundation for communication development and discusses challenges that families face as attachment bonds develop, with information about how to recognize signs that additional supports may be needed.


Other authors focus more directly on language development per se, summarizing data gathered in their own research and reported in the literature to address practical questions about identification. When most children have language and communication skills that appear "delayed" initially, what indicators should be monitored to identify which children actually need special services to support their language development and which need only sufficient time in their new environment to catch up? The growing body of evidence for children adopted in infancy (Hwa-Froelich) and in their preschool years (Glennen) is largely encouraging that the majority of children acquire their new language rapidly and are soon on schedule, but the risks are real and some do not. The higher level language demands when children reach school age should not be ignored, and continued monitoring is warranted (Scott). Guidelines for formal and informal assessments are beginning to emerge from studies of children in several special subgroups that can facilitate decision making. The authors in this issue emphasize the need to use appropriate comparative group data in place of inappropriate general population standards and norms (Hwa-Froelich; Roberts and Scott; and Scott).


The data and discussions of the authors of this issue also stimulate thinking about theoretical questions, such as whether prior exposure to the grammar of a language that appears to be "lost" not long after adoption still can influence the child's later language learning. The protective effects of greater opportunity for communicative interaction in preadoptive foster care (relative to most institutional settings) are discussed by several authors. Several authors also discuss data that support conclusions that the language of origin, in general, has few lasting influences (perhaps due to limited exposure in the first place). On the other hand, Glennen's longitudinal study of children adopted at slight older ages (i.e., in their preschool years rather than infancy) from eastern European countries suggests some traceable influences of prior linguistic exposure to languages that otherwise seem lost.


All in all, it is a fascinating issue. When data are grouped and quantified, there is a risk that poignant stories of individual children and their families will become blurred. The authors of this issue, however, manage to maintain the clarity of focus on whole children and families with unique stories to tell. At the same time, the authors offer summaries and recommendations. Although these remain tentative while more data are being gathered, they are clinically useful now.


One broader implication that this issue has raised for us as editors is the nature of the role of the speech-language pathologist and other special services personnel in general. A background question is whether professional roles and even titles should be reconceptualized to de-emphasize the focus on pathology and to raise the potential for more consultation focused on normal development without assuming or documenting pathology. Aside from funding and reimbursement implications, it should be possible for families to access the expertise of communication specialists such as speech-language pathologists for their expertise on communication development (typical or not) without requiring their children to be identified as having disorders first.


This current issue of Topics in Language Disorders can be mined for implications of many kinds. We recommend it to international and interdisciplinary audiences as fitting perfectly with the journal's mission and our expectation that informed but diverse perspectives can shape future understanding and facilitate successful language and communication for all.


-Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD




-Katharine G. Butler, PhD


Editor Emerita


1Retrieved December 27, 2008, from[Context Link]


2Retrieved December 27, 2008, from[Context Link]