Social Worker: International Adoptees Starting School

  • Currently 0/5 Stars.
You may use the stars on the left to rate and leave feedback for the current article. No registration is required. Waiting for 5 votes 0.0 of 5 stars (0 votes) — Thanks for your vote

Please fill out the following optional information before submitting your rating:

What steps are needed in order for my internatioanlly adopted child to start school in the U.S.?

First 2-4 Weeks: Things to do when arriving home

  • Get a health examination from an International Adoption Pediatrician.
  • Get an accurate psychosocial-educational evaluation done in their native language.
  • (In New York) New Entrant Chapter 53 Screening arranged by public school staff.

Determining School Readiness: Are They Ready To Start School?

  • Cognitive Readiness - ability to learn skills and be available for learning.
  • Social Readiness - capacity to function socially and participate cooperatively with peers.

The Right Academic Placement: What Grade Should They Be In?

Food For Thought:
  • Kindergarten is not a mandatory grade in New York.
  • There are no legal rules, but here usually 6 years old = first grade.
  • Even if their records say they are on grade level, doesn’t = the same grade level here.
  • Their birth date may not be accurate!
  • Delay entry into kindergarten or place in a grade level back by one year.
  • Place in an inclusion/ transitional class if available.
  • Place in age appropriate grade.
Rule Of Thumb:
  • For most school-age students, placing back one year is the more common solution.
  • Match your child’s actual age and cognitive and social functioning, with requirements for a particular grade = the right placement.
  • One year won’t ruin their life, but rather provide less academic and social stress now!
  • It’s more important to have a positive school experience now, which is a pre-requisite for long-term school success!

What To Expect

Keys to School Success:

  • Provide structure and predictable routines at home and school.
  • ESL/LEP is a necessary academic K-12 program essential for newly arrived children.
  • Share adoption information carefully, sometimes ‘less is more’, it’s their story to tell.
  • Basic facts about orphanage life are sufficient.
  • Model for teachers and encourage appropriate, positive adoption language.
  • Give teachers ideas on how to broaden school assignments/projects.

School Problems 3-5 years Old and Beyond?

What To Do:

  • Evaluate performance and concerns based on functioning since arriving home.
  • Consider acculturation, language acquisition, health and neurological problems, and length of time home before you question if your child has ADHD, anxiety, poor attachment or special education issues.

Red Flag:

  • If functioning is more than 2-3 years below chronological age or child has specific identifiable disabilities since arriving or red flags from their records, don’t wait, your child may need special education, psychological intervention and/or medical services.
  • If services seem needed, a thorough specialized evaluation should be completed.
  • Contact your local School District’s Special Education Coordinator to request testing.
  • Therapeutic interventions beyond the scope of the school for problems such as ADHD, anxiety and attachment contact an International Adoption Pediatrician for guidance.
  • Early intervention increases the likelihood of a positive outcome!

by Leslie Zindulka, LCSW-R

Submit Your Question


The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child's situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it - only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.

This material has been provided by, an innovative adoption medicine private practice and educational service, dedicated to helping parents and adoption agencies with the complex pre-adoption medical issues of internationally adopted children. All medical interactions are performed via, e-mail, express mail, telephone, and fax. There is no need to make a live appointment or travel outside of your hometown. For more information, visit or call 631-499-4114.

Visitor Comments (0) - Be the first to comment
Adding your comments contributes to the adoption community. Please keep all comments on topic and civil. Visitors are invited to comment and vote for or flag comments based on appropriateness and helpfulness. All comments must adhere to our commenting rules and are subject to moderation.

To see local International Adoption resources, please select a location (U.S. only):

Need a Home Study?
Adoption Photolisting
Cayden (TX / 12 / M)
Cayden is a loving and affectionate child who thrives on attention. He loves mighty machines, like cement trucks, 18 wheelers, trains, and monster trucks. Cayden is diagnosed... [more]
Directory of Adoption Professionals
Find a professional
for all of your adoption needs including:

Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of

Settings Help Feedback
Template Settings
Width: 1024     1280
Choose a Location:
Choose a Theme: