Healthy Adoption

Special Health Issues in International Adoptions

"The medical system in Russia is called "Defectology." Doctors there believe children are defective adults," says Dr. Aronson. "They say that over time the child recovers with medications and physical therapy and then the strange diagnoses (which adoptive parents often see in medical reports) disappear.

So, many of the diagnoses adoptive parents see do not reflect the specific child, but are simply used on all kids in Russia, not just orphans. The child may have abnormalities, but the diagnosis is not reflective of the true aspects of that child's health. The best thing to do is to look at is whether the child's head circumference is age-appropriate along with pictures and videotapes of the child."

By gathering as much information about the child's current health status and the background of the birth family, you are better able to decide whether or not to adopt that child. "Children adopted internationally often look healthy," says Dr. Schwarzwald. "So pediatricians not used to seeing such kids may overlook their what's going on with them medically." Medical conditions more commonly found in children adopted internationally include:

  • hepatitis B
  • problems related to malnutrition
  • delays in development
  • exposure to tuberculosis
  • intestinal and/or skin parasites
  • ear infections
  • poor dental health

"If you're adopting an infant, look for things such as whether the baby's weight and head circumference are age-appropriate," says Heidi Schwarzwald, MD., Director of the Texas Children's Health Center for International Adoption (

"Find out what developmental milestones the child has achieved. For toddlers, you also want to watch how they walk and run. Make sure the child can bend over, pick things up and stand back up. Look at how they feed themselves.

Most importantly, find out how the child interacts with caregivers. People adopting school-aged children will want to know whether they can do the 'basic things' for a child of that age, how well the child speaks his or her native language, You'll want to pay particular attention to how they are forming emotional attachments - and many of these kids do great!"