Center for Developmental Adoption Medicine
1400 Old York Road, Suite D
Abington, PA 19001
phone: 1-888-817-7303
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Psychologist tailors practice to help international adoptees and parents

All parents who bring a baby into their lives watch anxiously as the child grows. They all want to know the answer to an overarching question: Is my child OK?

The question is especially urgent for adoptive parents. They undertake the care of children whose early experiences may not be fully recorded. If medical records exist at all, they can be riddled with gaps. Information about the birth mother’s pregnancy and opportunities for development before the child reaches his or her adoptive family can be sketchy. For the growing number of families adopting children internationally, these uncertainties are magnified because studies show that international adoptees are the most high-risk pediatric group in the U.S.

Three-quarters of internationally adopted children come from institutional care in countries with low per capita income and with difficulty providing adequate nutrition and health care. According to developmental psychologist Dr. Davida Harlem, founder and director of the Center for Developmental Adoption Medicine in Abington, these factors affect development in the early years and can have long -term impact on learning skills as well as social and emotional growth. Dr.  Harlem’s established her practice to help adoptive parents address their children’s developmental needs, including the unique needs of children adopted internationally.

“An estimated 75 percent of international adoptees show some developmental delay,” Dr. Harlem said. “Some resolve on their own; some require intervention. But it’s difficult to separate what can resolve on its own from what needs intervention. Early identification of delays allows for prompt management and reduces the likelihood of delays during the school years. Delays can lead to behavior problems. If they are not managed, behavior problems can affect self-esteem, adjustment and interaction with peers.”


Social and emotional behavior
• How is the child adjusting to a new routine and to sleeping and eating patterns?
• How is the child bonding to parents?
• How is the child forming attachments?

To parents who want to know if their child’s development is on track or how to recognize developmental delays, Dr. Harlem offers a word of caution and some practical advice.  “What to expect in a baby’s development varies. International adoptees, for example, may have spent much more time in a crib and may have had limited language acquisition experiences.”  However, she advises parents to formulate questions by careful observation of four areas of development crucial for infants, toddlers and preschoolers: play and learning, language, motor skills and social and emotional behavior.

“These questions can help parents determine if they need another pair of eyes looking at their child’s development. Some parents may need specific recommendations, but others may need nothing more than reassurance.”

Dr. Harlem, in private practice for 25 years, received her Ph.D in child/school psychology from the University of Pennsylvania with a clinical internship in developmental/psychological pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. She also holds a master’s degree from Penn in psychological services. She is affiliated with Abington Memorial Hospital where she serves as the developmental psychologist to the Neonatal Follow-up Program. For a description of the pre- and post-adoption services provided by the Center for Developmental Adoption Medicine visit

Dr. Harlem will discuss developmental milestones for children from infancy to age 5 at The Center for Parenting Education, 1130 Old York Road, Abington, from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, March 12. The program is for all parents concerned about their child’s development. The program fee is $15. Registration is required. Call The Center for Parenting Education at 215-576-0586.