Monday, January 31, 2011

Initial adjustment of a school-age internationally adopted child to the new family

Source: PAL

It is difficult to imagine something that could be comparable to the complexity of the adjustment experience of a school-age child adopted internationally. Try to envision yourself amid a completely unfamiliar social/cultural milieu, being bombarded by thousands of novel auditory and visual experiences, and, on top of this, being handed over to adult strangers who are now part of something you may have never experienced before, called "family." That is what internationally adopted (IA) children are going through as soon as they land on American soil.

There are physical, cultural, and emotional/behavioral aspects of the adjustment that the IA children need to make. First, it is indeed a total adjustment to physical environment (water, food, air) and the cultural/social environment. Second, there is a new language, mediating the whole process: language acquisition and communication difficulties are intrinsic parts of the adjustment period. Mix patterns of institutional behavior of a child and various parental techniques and the dynamic of the adoptive family, and you will get an incomplete list of behavioral/emotional factors to cope with. It is only reasonable to expect the adjustment period to be an intense and difficult time for everyone in the family.

In this short article I will dwell only on behavioral/emotional issues that an average family will normally go through during the adjustment period with the internationally adopted school-age child. Behavioral/emotional adjustment has several phases:

Honeymoon phase

This is usually a rather short period of elevated sympathy in people who are new to each other and who have certain expectations of and attitudes towards each other. Many older children have the idea that if they misbehave they may be returned to the orphanage, so they try to control their behavior to the best of their ability. Adoptive parents try to be as nice as possible to their newly obtained children. Again, this period can be so short that some adoptive parents may not notice it. Some children while just traveling to their new home may have tantrums, crying fits, etc., which can be due to the frustrating inability to communicate wishes and needs. Some children may have had not enough sleep, be tired from the excitement of the departure, be scared by the sometimes frightening experiences of being restrained by a seat belt in an airplane, by the series of doctor's examinations, etc. and act out right in the middle of the "honeymoon."

Testing of the limits phase

For IA children, the only way to explore their new reality is to test it with whatever repertoire of behavior is available to the children: it may be angry rebellion, autistic-like behavior, and hectic hyperactive examination of their surroundings by touching, pulling, throwing, etc. It will not necessarily be typical of this child after the adjustment is over. By the same token, parenting techniques to manage these behaviors may also be different. "Testing the limits” means that limits and routines are to be established by parents and learned by the child. Cultural differences (at times no less than “culture shock”) mediate the testing-of-limits process in both parents and children.

Gradual mutual acceptance phase

Although this may be a part of the initial adjustment, it is a relatively long period of reciprocal accommodation and adaptation. This is the period of adjustment when the orphanage behavior will be tried again and again and will be gradually replaced by more functional adaptive behavior. This is the time when intense feelings of anxiety, grief, anger, and other emotional turbulence might take place. This is the time when a new post-institutional way of life (routines, values, attitudes) is being gradually acquired by an IA child. The beginning of acceptance of a new way of life is the end of the initial adjustment period.

How to manage behavioral issues during the initial adjustment period

In order to make the initial adjustment manageable and productive, adoptive parents should follow certain "dos" and don'ts":

• Keep stimulation to a minimum. No welcome parties, no trips to the mall within the first three weeks, no stream of relatives to see your new addition to the family. Limit toys, choices, outing, etc. Plan no more than one stimulating activity per day (such as the park, store, etc.).

• Concentrate on establishing a daily routine. Your key words from day one should be structure, consistency, routine. Develop a set of rules and procedures as quickly as possible and stick to them rigorously. Post-orphanage children's personal experience with discipline needs to be changed. The orphanage regiment has, in general, an adverse effect on a child because it does not nurture self-discipline. The child learns to be an object of externally exposed discipline. In the new family the child must learn self-discipline as the base for behavior and social interaction. The discipline should be shared and understood by everyone in the immediate family. Only then it will teach an IA child (probably for the first time) how to belong within a family.

• Parents should understand that there are things upon which they cannot compromise and there are things upon which negotiation and mutual "steps back" are possible. The first are issues of safety and health: no compromise on those. All the rest may be negotiated. Start working on safety skills and rules, such as crossing busy streets, walking around parked cars, asking owners before petting dogs, finding the way home, if lost asking for help, dealing with strangers, etc.

• The initial adjustment can be a very stressful time for everyone in the family. Parents should remember the basic rule of airplane safety: put an oxygen mask on yourself first and after that on the one you are going to take care of. Give yourselves breaks from the stress whenever you can. Take care of yourselves.

Most IA children are immature and will demonstrate behavior expected from a much younger child. It will especially be noticeable during the adjustment period. A 5-year-old may behave like a 3-year-old and an 8- year-old will test the limits through behavior that is expected from a preschooler.

Language acquisition has its own dynamic during the adjustment period. Both parents and children become very frustrated due to a mutual inability to understand each other, and children may end up in a temper tantrum.

Parents should not expect older children to be impressed with what is available for them now or to be immediately appreciative and grateful to their parents for that. Actually, just the opposite should be expected due to cultural shock. Parents should be ready for ungrateful, unimpressed, and resistant children in order to avoid disappointment.

The initial adjustment may significantly alter the child's "normal" behavior and produce symptoms usually associated with different psychiatric diagnoses. However, patience is needed: it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about the presence of a specific disorder and begin treatment right away. Some parents with no parenting experience and elevated anxiety may think the way a freshman in medical school thinks, going through the list of symptoms of different diseases: "My God, I had this symptom just yesterday; sure, I have this disease!" There are so many "behavior checklists" freely floating around (mostly through the Internet) those adoptive parents may read one of those and decide that the child has "all of these." Remember that this is still an adjustment period; certain patterns of troubling behavior may have a transitional nature. There should be a balance between a "wait and see'' approach and an "immediate response" approach.

There is an effective and useful method to reduce parents’ anxiety and structure their experiences: write a diary describing the child's behavior and parents’ reactions, feelings, and attitudes. For this you must be a keen observer of your child's behavior and be honest about your own frustrations and fears. Describe any progress or lack of progress that you see in the child. You should focus on the present moment (here and now) while learning all you can about the issues your child might have. This diary can be an invaluable resource later, if and when you decide to seek a professional consultation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Novels that take place in Ethiopia

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
From Publishers Weekly: Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
From Publishers Weekly: Ethiopia's 1974 revolution tears a family in half in this striking debut. Drought, famine and mutiny in the military are stretching Emperor Haile Selassie's regime to the breaking point, and when it finally tears, Hailu, a skilled and respected doctor in Addis Ababa, must find a way to shepherd his extended family through the ensuing violence. His task is made no easier by the fact that his son Dawit's fiery youthful convictions place him at odds with his more circumspect older brother, Yonas, a university professor with a wife and child. But when soldiers request Hailu to treat a gruesomely tortured political prisoner, he makes a fateful choice that puts his family in the military junta's crosshairs. Mengiste is as adept at crafting emotionally delicate moments as she is deft at portraying the tense and grim historical material, while her judicious sprinkling of lyricism imbues this novel with a vivid atmosphere that is distinct without becoming overpowering. That the novel subjects the reader to the same feelings of hopelessness and despair that its characters grapple with is a grand testament to Mengiste's talent.

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
From Booklist: Lilly, a young white Muslim woman, is eight when her British parents are killed in Morocco, and she is placed in the care of a Muslim disciple, who fills her days with the teachings of Islam. She later moves to Ethiopia, where she becomes a nurse, teaches local girls to recite the Qur'an, and falls in love with Aziz, a medical student who supports the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Lilly's tenuous ties to the monarchy force her to flee to London when Selassie is deposed, in 1974; there she immerses herself in a refugee support group and waits to be reunited with Aziz. Gibb adroitly flips back and forth between prerevolution Ethiopia, where Lilly, though a foreigner, is admired for her knowledge of Muslim teachings, and London in the 1990s, where she feels stronger ties to Muslim refugees than to the British, who feel increasingly threatened by the refugees' presence. Gibbs' novel is a gripping and provocative addition to the post-9/11 genre of fiction exploring the many facets of Islam

If you've read any of these books, please feel free to review them in the comments. Know of other novels featuring Ethiopia? Please leave a comment too!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Doing taxes


There are a lot of questions about the adoption tax credit laws and how to file. It has been easy for us to file for the last two years. I think there is only one year left for us. Fortuantely it has been extended. And I think that the limit is about $13,170 this year for 2010 taxes.

Here's the official IRS document that explains it:

http://www.irs. gov/pub/irs- drop/n-10- 66.pdf

A section to note for carry over credits is on page 3 at the bottom - section 3

1. Amounts Carried Over from Earlier Taxable Years to a Taxable Year Beginning in 2010
An amount of an adoption credit claimed in an earlier taxable year that a taxpayer carries forward to a taxable year beginning in 2010 is allowable as a refundable tax credit. An amount that a taxpayer carries forward to a taxable year beginning in 2010 is not subject to an income limitation in that taxable year.

The following examples illustrate these rules.
Example 1. (i) In 2008, Taxpayer pays $2,000 of QAE to adopt an eligible child who is a citizen of the United States. In 2009, Taxpayer pays an additional $8,000 of QAE and the adoption becomes final. The adoption credit for $10,000 of QAE is allowable in 2009.

(ii) Taxpayer's tax liability for taxable year 2009 is $6,000, and Taxpayer applies $6,000 of the $10,000 credit against Taxpayer's 2009 tax liability. Taxpayer carries forward $4,000 of the credit to 2010.
(iii) In 2010, Taxpayer's tax liability is $3,000. Taxpayer applies $3,000 of the $4,000 carried forward adoption credit against Taxpayer's 2010 tax liability. Taxpayer is entitled to a refund of the remaining credit.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Foto Friday

Friday! Time for happy, healthy kids and families through IAN!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Foto Friday

Beautiful, happy, healthy IAN kids!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shortcut Injera

I haven't tried this yet but I will be soon...


A traditional injera batter may ferment for days, but this streamlined version comes together quickly. Yogurt adds sourness, while the club soda creates bubbles for a lighter batter. To use the same amount of whole wheat flour in place of teff flour, add 1/2 cup water to the batter; the characteristic tangy flavor may be subdued.

  • 9 ounces teff whole-grain flour (about 2 cups)
  • 4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups club soda
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • Cooking spray

Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine club soda and yogurt in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture; stir with a whisk until smooth.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Pour about 1/3 cup batter per flatbread onto pan in a spiral, starting at the center; cook 20 seconds. Cover the pan; cook an additional 40 seconds or just until set. Transfer to a plate, and cover with a cloth to keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining cooking spray and batter, wiping the pan dry with a paper towel between flatbreads.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Foto Friday

Merry (Ethiopian) Christmas! Wishing all the IAN families a wonderful day!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas in Ethiopia


    The Ethiopian Christmas known as Ganna is celebrated on January 7th. This celebration takes place in ancient churches carved from solid volcanic rock and also in modern churches that are designed in three concentric circles. Men and boys sit separately from girls and women. Also the choir sings from the outside circle.

    People receive candles as they enter the church. After lighting the candles everyone walks around the church three times, then stands throughout the mass, which may last up to three hours.

    Food served at Christmas usually includes injera, a sourdough pancake like bread. Injera serves as both plate and fork. Doro wat, a spicy chicken stew might be the main meal. A piece of the injera is used to scoop up the wat. Baskets decorated beautifully are used to serve the wat.

    Gift giving is a very small part of Christmas celebration. Children usually receive very simple presents such as clothing.

    In Ethiopia Christmas day is January 7, so on Christmas Eve the city is crowded with pilgrims from all parts of the country. They remain outdoors all night, praying and chanting. In the morning, a colorful procession makes its way to a nearby hilltop where a service is held. Three young men march at the head of the crowd, lashing whips from left to right to keep the people in line. Those who worship are fed with bread and wine that has been blessed by priests. After the service is over the rest of the day is spent dancing, playing sport and feasting.