Know the Signs: Recognizing Developmental and Learning Disorders in Foster and Adoptive Children

Know the Signs: Recognizing Developmental and Learning Disorders in Foster and Adoptive Children2017-05-18T12:59:44-06:00
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“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
  — Dr. Seuss


Cognitive development includes a child’s ability to learn and problem-solve. There are many different measures of cognitive or intellectual abilities, which assess traits like executive functioning, memory, visual-spatial skills, processing speed, verbal reasoning and fluid reasoning to name a few.



Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand, manage and express emotions, show empathy for others, and establish and maintain positive relationships.


Language / Communication

Language development is the process of developing verbal communication skills. It starts early in human life with discrimination of speech sounds and engage in babbling to the development of advanced vocabulary, writing and communication skills.



Motor development refers to changes in children’s ability to control their body’s movements, from infants’ first spontaneous waving and kicking movements to the adaptive control of reaching, locomotion, and complex sport skills.


“While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about.”
— Angela Schwindt, home schooling mom
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity. ADHD begins in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. As many as 2 out of every 3 children with ADHD continue to have symptoms as adults

Three Types:

  1. Inattentive Presentation
  2. Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation
  3. Combined Presentation
Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by deficits in communication and socializations, as well as the presence of stereotyped behavior and/or restricted interests.
A Language delay is a failure in children to develop language abilities on the usual age timetable. Language delay is distinct from speech delay, in which the speech mechanism itself is the focus of delay.
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.

There three types of specific learning disorders:

  1. Reading (Skill, Fluency, Comprehension)
  2. Writing (Spelling, Written Expression)
  3. Mathematics (Computation, Application)
Motor skill delays in children can affect both gross motor movements, such as running, and fine motor movements, such as writing.

Motor delays can negatively impact both academic and social functioning.

Cognitive delays often vary widely, but can include problem-solving, logical and abstract reasoning, rate of learning, memory, verbal processing, and executive functioning skills, like concentration, planning and organization.
Depression in children can be debilitating. It has some similarities to depression in adults but can present differently in children. Children often present with more irritability and behavioral issues than is common for adults.  They often show persistent sadness for flat emotions. They may loose interest in activities they formerly enjoyed, or  struggle with motivation to complete tasks. Sometimes depressed children also exhibit changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
Approximately 20% of children who experience a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters or car wrecks, will develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Those with PTSD often have flashbacks and nightmares. They may appear on-edge and easily startled, or avoidant of reminders about the traumatic event.

Many children develop other types of anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, or Panic Disorder.  Problematic levels of anxiety are treatable, so don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance.

Many children’s anxiety manifests as physical problems, like stomach or headaches, rather than the cognitive complaints you’d expect to hear from adults, such as excessive worrying.

Keep in Touch!

Parents and Caregivers should…

  • See through a trauma-informed lens
  • Know the child’s family history, medical and mental health
  • Be mindful of attachment and security needs
  • Know the prior family home life. Enriching vs Neglecting; secure vs unstable; etc.

Development is a continuous Process and its influences are many. Development is:

  • Similar for everyone
  • Builds on prior learning
  • Proceeds at an individual rate
  • Developmental areas are interrelated
  • Continuous throughout life

 Caregivers of adoptive and foster children should strive to recognize where the child is on his/her developmental path. Parents and caregivers should …

  • Seek evaluation from professions when needed, and be as involved as possible in treatment.
  • Facilitate skill acquisition in each developmental area, by teaching, modeling and coaching new skills.
  • Focus on building strong relationships, that offer security and stability for the child.
  • Advocate for behavior, social and academic accommodations in school, such as 504 Plans & IEPs
  • Resist negative attributions about the child, and instead strive to understand the purpose of behavior and needs of the child.

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