Disability stigma and development a japanese case study
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Disability, stigma, and development: A Japanese case study. Misa Kayama & Wendy Haight School of Social Work University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “Disability” is a cultural concept. Conditions that impair physical and mental functioning are universal. Cultural variations:

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Disability, stigma, and development: A Japanese case study

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Disability stigma and development a japanese case study

Disability, stigma, and development: A Japanese case study

Misa Kayama & Wendy Haight

School of Social Work

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Disability is a cultural concept

“Disability” is a cultural concept

  • Conditions that impair physical and mental functioning are universal.

  • Cultural variations:

    • What conditions are to be considered “disabilities”

      • e.g., definitions of disabilities

    • How societies/people respond to such conditions

      • e.g., available services/accommodations

Japanese category of developmental disabilities

Japanese category of “Developmental disabilities”

  • Caused by deficits in brain functioning

  • Not caused by environmental deprivation or mental retardation

  • Symptoms are present from early childhood

    • High functioning autism & Asperger’s syndrome

    • Specific learning disabilities

    • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)

    • Disabilities involving language, etc.

  • Different from clinical diagnostic criteria in the U.S.

  • Why study japan

    Why study Japan?

    • Importance of Japanese cultural perspective

      • Group orientation

        • Holistic education

        • Education in peer groups

        • Minimize stigmatization of individuals with milder disabilities

      • Almost no research published in English on special education

    • New formal educational support began in 2007

      • Shift in perspectives on children who are “difficult” or “slow learners”

      • “Japanized” practices borrowed from other countries

    A child with a developmental disability

    A child with a developmental disability

    • Full member of a peer group, family, and community

    • Interpersonal challenges with peers

      • Ability to make friends

    • Challenges in learning certain academic skills

      • Reading

      • Writing

      • Reasoning

      • Math calculation, etc.

    • At risk of secondary disabilities

    Sociocultural model of disability

    Sociocultural model of disability

    • Disability is “created” through the interactions of children with disabilities and others

      • Beliefs, norms, and expectations at school

      • Relationships with educators and their peers

      • Negative/positive reactions to children’s struggles

      • Meanings of “disabilities” change over time

    • Cultural beliefs are a tool to understand/describe children’s “world” at school

    • Outsider & insider perspectives

    Research questions

    Research Questions

    • What are the socialization beliefs and practices of Japanese educators pertaining to children with developmental disabilities?

    • What are the perspectives of Japanese parents of children with developmental disabilities?

    • What are the understandings and experiences of Japanese children with developmental disabilities?

    Methods ethnography


    • Policy review

    • Greenleaf Elementary School

    • Case studies of 3 children with disabilities

      • Dai: 3rd grade, Yusuke: 5th grade, Kakeru: 2nd grade

    • Individual interviews

      • Children with disabilities, parents, and educators

    • Participant observations

      • General education classrooms

      • Challenge Room (special support room)

      • Rainbow Room (special education classroom)


    A ttitudes beliefs about disability

    Attitudes & beliefs about disability

    • Adults’ descriptions of children’s disabilities focused on the children’s social and educational functioning in peer groups rather than the neurological aspect of their disabilities.

    • “Being different” can be a source of stigma

      • “This is the society where you are called ‘stranger’ if you are a little different from others.”

    Dai s mother sensitivity to difference

    Dai’s mother: Sensitivity to “difference”

    • Dai’s mother has accepted that Dai has a disability, but it took nearly a year until she accepted Dai’s special needs.

      • I didn’t think it was necessary to pull him out, because he’s been doing well “normally.”

      • A teacher’s observation:

        It seems that she doesn’t like to talk to me on the 1st floor [hallway], I mean, she looks away, so may be she doesn’t like [other people to find] her talking with me [because they will] find out that her child is different from others

    E ducators socialization practices

    Educators’ socialization practices

    • Educators tried to avoid stigmatizing children

    • Support provided to children with disabilities is embedded in their social contexts

      • “Raise” other children: Acceptance and awareness

      • Involve peers in support for children with additional needs

      • Create supportive environment

      • Facilitate children’s voluntary learning

      • Help parents to accept their children’s special needs

    1 st grade classroom teacher raising other children

    1st grade classroom teacher: “Raising other children”

    • This teacher explained to children about their peer’s disability using a metaphor, a cup of tolerance.

      • Someone has a large cup, but there is someone who has a small cup. We can’t change the size of our cups easily. So, there is a person who wants to “tolerate” but can’t.

      • It was a child with ADHD …When the child melted down or got upset, other children said, his cup had overflowed.

    Dai home like environment

    Dai: Home-like environment

    • Classroom teachers make an effort to create classrooms where children with disabilities are welcomed and able to participate by involving their peers.

    • Mrs. K explained to children that she wanted to make their classroom like their “home,” where children say, “Okaeri-nasai (Welcome back)”, and Dai says, “Tadaima (I’m back).”

    3rd grade classroom

    Kakeru transition to the rainbow room

    Kakeru: Transition to the Rainbow Room

    • He noticed that he had been working with “300”% of his ability/energy.

    • Special interests of bugs: Source of pride & motivation

    • A boy [entering classroom, and addressing children]: “I have a question to Kakeru. Can you teach me the name of the crab you found the other day?”

    • Kakerusaid the name immediately.

      [After they left]

    • Ms. A [to Kakeru]: “You know very


    Yusuke the worlds of play and study

    Yusuke: The worlds of play and study

    • World of play where he re-connected with peers

    • Play motivated him to cope with hardships

    • Yusuke was the first one who pretended to be a train driver. Since then, other children began to recognize the tricycle as a train.

    • When he was alone, he still was a train driver and drove around the room.

    Yusuke’s “train”

    Yusuke s mother safe environment

    Yusuke’s mother: Safe environment

    • Educators guide parents to accept their children’s disabilities and special needs.

      • I thought I didn’t have anything to talk with a psychologist about at first. They knew what to do. Mrs. S [a school nurse] told Mrs. J [a psychologist] to help me. It started like that, and then she called me and arranged that I was able to make an appointment, naturally.

      • Mrs. S and his classroom teacher [in his 4th grade], all of them made a route for me to go to see Mrs. J.

    Disability stigma and development a japanese case study

    What we can learn from the

    Japanese case

    • Stay close to children’s kokoro (hearts/minds)

      • Sensitivity to children’s emotional and intellectual readiness for change

    • Create a supportive social ecology

      • Use peer group membership as a tool to intervene and facilitate the development of all children

      • Guide parents to accept their children’s special needs voluntarily

    Minimizing stigmatization

    Strengths and limitations

    Strengths and limitations


    • Insider and outsider perspectives

    • Dual roles as a teaching assistant and a researcher

    • My wheelchair as a tool to initiate relationships


    • General sensitivity to differences

      • Limited variability of participants

      • Interviewing children and parents

    Disability stigma and development a japanese case study

    Yusuke’s Graduation Ceremony

    For more information

    For more information…

    Japanese socialization and educational practices at elementary school

    • Kayama, M. & Haight, W. (2012). Cultural sensitivity in the delivery of disability services to children: A case study of Japanese education and socialization. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 266-275.

      Children’s experiences and perceptions of disabilities/special education

    • Kayama, M. & Haight, W. (in press). The experiences of Japanese elementary-school children living with “developmental disabilities”: Navigating peer relationships. Qualitative Social Work

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