Black and other nonwhite children adopted by white families have high self-esteem, do well in school and show no signs of major emotional damage from the transracial adoption experience, according to a study.

About 85 percent of the parents said they would do it again and recommend transracial adoption to others, the study said.

Rita James Simon, a sociologist and dean of the School of Justice at American University, and Howard Altstein, professor of social work at the University of Maryland, said the study contradicts the notion that black children adopted by whites suffer severe, life-long psychological damage.

"We found the children remarkably well-adjusted and well-integrated into their adoptive families," Simon said. "They did reasonably well at school, and they had a good self-image. This will break some stereotypes."

The study began in 1972, when Simon interviewed 204 families who had adopted children across racial lines. The children then ranged from age 3 to 8. All the families lived in the Midwest and were white and middle-class.

"Virtually all adoptions except by relatives are by middle-class families; only middle-class families can afford to adopt," Simon said in an interview. Most of the families were Protestant.

Simon and Altstein have been tracking the families since then. In 1983-84, they reinterviewed 96 of the families -- others had moved and could not be found or were unavailable. The families at that time had a median income of $44,000. Three-quarters lived in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The families interviewed in 1983-84 had a total of 218 children, who in the dozen years since 1972, had grown to be teen-agers or older. Of these, 89 were black adoptees, 22 were other nonwhite adoptees such as Native American children or Asian-origin children, 16 were white adoptees and 91 were white children born into the families.

The researchers found that one-third of the parents said they had not changed the general pattern of their lives as a result of adopting a black or other nonwhite child.

The others said that as a result of the adoption, they had -- to varying extents -- begun "learning about black, Native American and Indian cultures (e.g., foods, art, history, ceremonials), seeking out blacks as friends, sending their children to interracial schools" and churches.

The researchers found that most of the adoptees attended schools where most of the students were white.

They found that the adoptees had average school grades midway between B and C in the year preceding the interview -- slightly lower than the same families' natural-born children or adopted white children, who averaged Bs, but well into the adequate passing range. Three-quarters planned to go to college.

Socially, almost three-quarters of the black and other nonwhite children had whites for their two closest friends.

More than three-fifths of the black and other nonwhite children who had begun dating went out with whites exclusively, almost 27 percent dated both blacks and whites, and 11 percent dated blacks exclusively.

Simon said the study found that over 90 percent of the adopted children said they enjoy family life, an indication that they have integrated well within the adoptive family; the percentage was similar for the same families' natural-born children and white adopted children.

And about 80 percent of the black and other nonwhite adopted children agreed that people in their families trusted one another, while more than 90 percent said their parents would stick by them if they were in trouble, the same percentages as white adoptees and natural-born children.

Similarly, more than 90 percent of the nonwhite adopted children said they had positive attitudes about themselves.

In a rating of overall self-esteem often used by sociologists, based on various factors, with 10 the highest score and 40 the lowest, Simon said all the children -- black, other nonwhite, adopted white and natural born -- scored high, about 18.

Simon said the findings show that black and nonwhite children adopted into the white families "are as healthy as other adolescents in middle-class and upper middle-class families. And the alternatives -- foster care and institutionalization -- are so much more negative."

Simon began the study when she headed the University of Illinois sociology department. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, a second round of interviews in 1979 by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the 1983-84 study by the William T. Grant Foundation.