Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Experiences of Children's Disabilities and Special Education in the United States and Japan: Implications for School Social Work

Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Experiences of Children's Disabilities and Special Education in the United States and Japan: Implications for School Social Work

Article excerpt

Special education systems and policies are reflected and embedded in cultural beliefs about disability. Variations in the special education systems in the United States and Japan reflect cultural differences in beliefs about disability and affect the experiences of parents with children with disabilities, including expectations for their relationships with professionals. Enhancing parents' experiences is critical, as they have a direct impact on children's development through their caregiving and advocacy. Discussion of U.S. and Japanese parents' beliefs about disability and special education, as well as their experiences, illustrates the cultural embeddedness of special education service provision and affords opportunities to consider diverse strategies for strengthening school social work practice beyond what is taken for granted within any particular cultural context.

Until recently, Japanese children with educational difficulties--including learning disabilities (LD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and high-functioning autism--were educated in regular classrooms (Stevenson & Stigler, 1992) by teachers who had neither specialized training nor support services (Kataoka, van Kraayenoord, & Elkins, 2004). In the late 1980s, the Japanese government became aware of problems with this system and began studying the U.S. special education system, which recognized needs of children with LD and provided them with additional support since the passage of the Public Law 94-142 in 1975, currently Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In addition to LD, autism was added as a special education category under IDEA in ]990, and ADHD was added to the "other health impairments" category in 1997 (Smith, 2007).The Japanese government, however, was hesitant to establish a new category for these disabilities because of the potential danger of labeling and consequent stigmatization (Abe, 1998). During the 1990s, the special needs of Japanese children with LD, ADHD, and high-functioning autism received wider public attention, and the special education system entered a period of reform. During the 2007-08 school year, schools in Japan implemented a new system that included support for these children (Kataoka et al., 2004; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 2003, 2007a) by adapting new ideas from other countries, including the United States.

Yet as groups, U.S. and Japanese people have different culture-based ideas about people with disabilities and special education. These ideas are reflected in public policies for the provision of services--for example, the Japanese government's hesitation to label children (Abe, 1998)--and may reflect relatively stronger beliefs in Japan that disabilities are sensitive and potentially stigmatizing issues (Tachibana & Watanabe, 2004). This literature review discusses the reciprocal relationships of cultural beliefs and special education systems in the United States and Japan from the perspective of parents of children with disabilities.

CULTURAL BELIEFS ABOUT DISABILITY AND SPECIAL EDUCATION

Japanese parents of children with disabilities have reported struggling with social stigma expressed toward them or their children in daily conversations (for example, "I am sorry for you," "You must be unhappy") (Kasahara & Turnbull, 2005). Japanese people tend to consider people with disabilities to be abnormal. A belief in the responsibility of the government to uphold the individual rights of people with disabilities, such as equal participation and opportunities, is not yet typical in Japan, as it has become in the United States (Crystal, Watanabe, & Chen, 1999) following the civil rights movement of the 1960s (for example, Hall, 2002; Mithaiwala, 2004). Care for individuals with disabilities is viewed by many Japanese people as the responsibility of families, even though public assistance is available. …

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