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Lessons from Japan: disability services across cultures

misa.jpgSchool of Social Work post-doctoral associate Misa Kayama hopes her research on the rapidly evolving world of special education in Japan will shed light on disability services for children in the United States as well.

Japan is Kayama's home country, but she received her social work Ph.D. in the United States, so writing about social welfare issues required her to be able to cross cultures. She chose to focus her dissertation on three Japanese children and their families, following them over two years to determine how they felt about special education services.

Until recently, special education in Japan was reserved for children with more serious disabilities like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. But over the past 10 years, children with attention deficit disorder, Aspergers syndrome, and learning disabilities have started to receive new services. In the United States, school social workers provide such children with social and emotional support, but in Japan school social work is new, so children with disabilities don't often work with a school social worker. In the Japanese culture, Kayama notes, receiving services, or being labeled as different, carries some risk. "This is a society where you are called 'stranger' if you are a little different from others," she quoted one teacher as saying.

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