Dyslexia and Adoption: Let’s Connect the Dots-Part 2

Where is the research about dyslexia and adoption? And, why isn’t adoption cited more frequently as a subgroup within the broader dyslexia community when adopted kids are twice as likely as non-adopted kids to have learning or attention issues (Morin, n.d.).   Would a specific subset muddy the global effort to help more people with dyslexia learn to read? Would fewer people want to adopt children if they thought their child would be at a higher risk of having a learning difference?

As a parent of an adopted child with dyslexia, I’ve often struggled with the dyslexia community at large to understand what makes our kids more prone to reading differences. In my last post on this topic, I questioned the effect that sudden language disruption would wreak on a young child learning to read (Gindis, 2004).

I still don’t know for sure whether sudden language disruption is the reason our daughter has a reading difference, but I believe it is a factor.  What I have since learned, is that there are tons of ideas why our adopted kids could be more prone to learning differences. Here are some of them:

  • Poverty
  • Stress
  • Trauma

Poverty, Stress, and Trauma

You don’t hear a lot about poverty, stress, and trauma in the mainstream dyslexia community. However, they are really, really important factors to consider in learning and language development.

So how can poverty be a factor in a learning difference? A significant study (Ryan, 2012) demonstrated that these conditions, in particular, poverty, affect brain development and function.  The article goes on to point out that poverty becomes an internal condition rather than an external or environmental condition. What this means is that poverty changes the brain wiring, and affects the ability to learn. Although the focus of the article is how learning disabilities and the treatment of poor students should instigate a change in special education law, the applications of the research are wide-spread.

Toxic Stress

The Center on the Developing Child, a Harvard think tank, studies how poverty, stress, and, trauma affect children. The following quote is a good summary of their findings on how stress “derails” development:

“… Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child).

  • If we start to understand the experiences that contribute to the higher rate of reading and learning differences in our adopted kids, then perhaps we can improve their learning outcomes.
  • Our kids are in loving homes, but they have apparently had experiences, especially transitions that they carry within them.

Moving Forward

There is so much we are still learning, and other questions to explore. Is the rate of dyslexia or learning differences as high in the native country as it is for our adopted kids in the U.S.?  Would our adopted kids have had the same learning challenges if they remained in their native country?

There’s a part of me that thinks it doesn’t matter. Our kids are perfect the way they are, and we are blessed to be on this adoption journey together.

On the other hand, we want our kids to have the best opportunities and to reach their potentials. Asking the hard questions may inform us of different ways to teach our kids to read.

There are no one-size-fits-all, but I think we owe it to our kids to keep figuring out how we can make their world a better place for them to learn. What do you think of the current research, and how do you think it could help the adoption community?

Bibliography and References

Gindis, B. (2004). Language Development and Internationally Adopted Children. China Connection, volume 10 (2), pages. 34-37. Retrieved from

International Dyslexia Association. About Dyslexia: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from

Jones, J., Placek, P. (2017). Adoption: By the Numbers. Retrieved from

Morin, A. Learning and Attention Issues in Adopted Children. Retrieved from

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Toxic Stress (n.d.) Retrieved from

Ryan, James E., Poverty as Disability and the Future of Special Education Law (October 1, 2012). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 101, 2013; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2012-63. Available at SSRN:

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