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News & Views - Jun, 1992 Issue 

Special Needs Japanese Students
By Diane Rapp, Educational Consultant
Scarborough, New York
(914) 945-0630


In the February issue, Lon mentioned placing a young man from Japan in an alternative program and the probability of more such students coming. It is important for us to respond to this challenge, but we must do so with our eyes open. Students from Japan, while in some ways the same as adolescents the world over, in other ways are infinitely more complex. Having lived in Japan for over 10 years and worked as an educational consultant placing Asian students for six, I have some opinions I would like to share with you.

There are more kids with special needs coming from Japan; affluence has created many troubled kids, and the U.S. is perceived as a place that will take anybody, because of our historic generosity and current economic woes.

While many of our special needs programs are perfect in theory for these kids, some approaches may not be. Counselors should be familiar with Asian culture and ethics. Questions of identity are complicated: do we want to make these kids Americans or prepare them to return to their own society? Are behavior patterns that are acceptable in their culture, but not in ours, permissible? Schools and special programs must understand the complex linguistic, academic, social, and cultural needs of these kids.

Some boarding schools have felt that "once they learn English everything will be fine." Even with reasonable English skills, everything is not so fine for many of these kids, even the "untroubled" ones. These students may have undiagnosed learning disabilities, and after years of struggle and humiliation, their self-esteem has almost disappeared. They are failures in a society in which success is critical. Substance use and abuse is common among teenagers, with alcohol and cigarette vending machines on every street corner.

In Japan, psychiatry and psychology are just beginning to be part of diagnosis and treatment; it is still a stigma to ask for such help. It would be ideal to have a Japanese psychologist on staff or at least available on a consulting basis, but this is practically impossible, particularly in remote areas in which many programs are located.

Parents have virtually no understanding of the approach of our therapeutic schools, so any on-going dialogue or attempt to discover background information is almost impossible, and both of these elements are critical to the success of most programs. At the same time parents assume, for the large sum of money they spend for these programs, that success is guaranteed. Due to the "shame" many of these kids have caused their families, there will be no one assigned to act as a surrogate U.S. parent, so there are no real lines of communication.

While not meaning to be an alarmist, I think it is critical to understand the background, special needs, psychological and educational profile and probable future of each Japanese student BEFORE accepting him or her. Clearly, it is a challenge, but at the same time an opportunity. There is almost no help for these kids in Japan, so with patience and thorough groundwork we can fulfill a tremendous need.

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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