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Urbach, Jennifer

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Children with disabilities and special needs make up the vast majority of those currently being adopted internationally into the United States (U.S.). China has been a leading sending country for international adoption since the 1990s and remains one of the few nations with thousands of orphaned or abandoned children, many with congenital disabilities or significant medical needs, in government welfare institutions. While most children adopted internationally (CAI), whether from China or other nations, experience developmental catch-up after adoption, children with disabilities and those who spent time in institutional settings exhibit persistent language deficits that impact literacy and academic skills as they progress through school. Many children adopted internationally also experience an abrupt language shift from their birth language to the language of their adoptive family, making them second first language learners (Scott et al., 2008). The unique combination of being a second first language learner with a disability, along with the trauma experience of spending critical developmental years in an institutional setting without a primary caregiver, makes CAI with disabilities an important group for teachers and other service providers to understand. Parental practices that support early literacy development and parental beliefs about language and literacy influence children’s later reading achievement (Pelatti et al., 2014; Snow et al., 1998; Weigel et al., 2007). The limited research with parents who have adopted internationally indicates that parents play a key role in educating teachers about adoption and their child’s needs, but very few studies focus on CAI with disabilities or special education, especially related to language development and reading disabilities. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to examine the perspectives of parents who had adopted a child with a disability internationally related to their views on language and literacy development as well as their experiences with special education. This exploratory, qualitative study utilized a grounded theory approach to analyze data, generate conceptual categories, and develop a theoretical model to explain participant perceptions of language and literacy development, and related special education services, for CAI with disabilities. Participants included 12 mothers of children with disabilities who had been adopted from China. While purposeful sampling was used to recruit a diverse sample of participants, including fathers and parents who had adopted from different countries, only mothers who had adopted from China were ultimately able and willing to participate. Data collection took place in the form of written questionnaires, three focus groups, and 12 individual interviews. All focus groups and individual interviews took place via Zoom. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method and included three cycles of coding. A peer reviewer assisted with data collection and analysis to guard against research bias and establish trustworthiness and credibility. Additionally, a member check was used to help validate emerging findings. Results of the data analysis revealed one overarching theme, that of mothers needing to navigate trauma, unique needs, and special education systems to meet the language and literacy needs of each child. This overall theme was developed from four major categories: (a) seeing the whole child, (b) providing supports and opportunities, (c) guiding language and literacy development, and (d) advocating in education. The grounded theory framework that emerged from the data analysis centralizes the category of “seeing the whole child,” as mothers’ perspectives within the other three categories were connected with and informed by their child’s trauma experiences, unique personality, disability, and language development. Findings from this study reveal the central role mothers play in their child’s language and literacy development as well as the complexities and challenges associated with the intersecting issues of international adoption, trauma, language learning, disability, and special education. Results of this study may assist special education teams and teachers related to understanding the importance of listening to parents, creating trauma-informed classrooms, and seeing the whole child in order to support unique strengths, interests, and needs. Given the specific population in this study, results are not representative of all parents of CAI with disabilities. However, educators and post-adoption support providers may benefit from reading this study to gain greater understanding of the unique needs of CAI with disabilities from China and their families. Families with CAI with disabilities, especially those with children from China, may benefit from the approaches, strategies, and resources discussed in this study to help in supporting the language and literacy development of their children and assist them in advocating for their children in schools.


237 pages

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