Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes for International Adoptees

Basic information

This research study was designed to examine cognitive, emotional and behavioral outcomes in children who have been adopted internationally, to recruit children adopted at young ages as well as children who have been adopted at older ages to be able to compare their level of functioning over time and to examine the interrelationship between cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning in internationally adopted children.

Children raised in overseas orphanages and then adopted internationally have been the subject of considerable psychological study. The bulk of these studies suggest that orphanage experience causes negative consequences, including physical and health problems, developmental delay, and emotional and social skill difficulties. Although long-term studies have revealed that a majority of children, post adoption, see significant improvements in at least some areas, the length of time that children have spent in an orphanage was negatively related to their ability to recover.

Recent research examining cognitive skills, in particular, has focused mainly on recovery in intelligence test scores (English and Roman Adoptees Group out of the United Kingdom). However, focusing only on intelligence scores seems inadequate. With a research team at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, I examined cognitive functioning with a more comprehensive battery. Over half of the children whose intelligence scores had "caught up" to average range levels showed a significant deficit in one or more cognitive areas (Behen, Helder, et. al., 2009). Additional data analyses suggested that cognitive development was closely intertwined with a child's emotional and behavioral adjustment and their attachment to their adoptive parent(s).

Given this, the study has several goals: 1) To examine cognitive, emotional and behavioral outcomes in children who have been adopted internationally, to see whether certain difficulties recover or persist as well as to identify factors predicting better recovery. 2) Recruit children adopted at young ages as well as children who have been adopted at older ages to be able to compare their level of functioning over time. Parents who adopt older children have little to guide them in what is typical for things like English language acquisition or academic progress, so this goal will be particularly helpful to them and can guide intervention in the future. 3) To examine the interrelationship between cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning in internationally adopted children. Past research has usually focused on only one of these areas though some initial analysis suggests that they are closely related and likely affect each other. The first two time points of data for this study have been collected during the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. The summer 2015 data collection period will seek to follow-up all 50 enrolled children to examine their current cognitive, emotional and behavioral adjustment.

The results of this study have several possible implications. They help lay the groundwork for an understanding of the basic path of recovery of a number of skills and behaviors. This knowledge will then allow practitioners to understand when children are deviating from this norm, in order to intervene. They will also provide information about risk and protective factors that can aid in development of early interventions. They will also lead to future studies that examine the effects of intervention on recovery of skills.

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Emily Helder

Emily Helder

Assistant Professor
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