Today's special needs education was launched under the Revised School Education Act which came into effect in April 2007. Its general framework was based on the final report of the Research Committee on How to Provide Special Needs Education (October 2001 - March 2003) after which it was implemented nationwide on a trial basis for four years under central control. Having contributed to the above discussion as a researcher and then helped to set up a special needs education system in Chiba Prefecture and been involved in clinical child psychiatry, I have long had a strong interest in the progress of this field.
The idea of special needs education: The foundation of a society of coexistence
It has been stated that special needs education shall take on board the educational needs of each and every schoolchild and provide suitable teaching and necessary support (Notice on Promotion of Special Needs Education, 2007 Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, MEXT No.125, April 1, 2007). Special needs education is specified as education that helps children with disabilities to become self-reliant, and has been extended to cover not only conditions conventionally requiring special education but also developmental disorders not accompanied by slow intellectual ability (ADHD, learning disability, and autism.)
The introduction to the above document advocates coexistence: "Special needs education is greatly significant as the basis of the formation of a society of coexistence where there is awareness of disabilities and other individual differences and where all kinds of people can live an active and successful life. Although the first part of the introduction deals with special needs education as the education for handicapped children, later on it takes the stance of aiming toward a society of coexistence, giving a sense of approaching a new era. In recent years, I have encountered cases of support for children that also take into account background factors such as family illness, unemployment and poverty, discord of parents, and so on.
School life of children with developmental disabilities - Focusing on teaching through special classes
In the five years since special needs education was brought into effect, its system has been built up through the development of a working model while carrying out repeated training and enlightenment, and it has been implemented on schedule at any rate. Here I will talk about the reality of teaching through special classes and the issues involved.
Hopes for special teaching classrooms and spreading support for special teaching within schools
According to surveys by MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the number of schools that have installed special teaching classrooms is increasing annually. The 2011 survey results show a 25.5% increase over the previous three years (Survey results on the implementation status of teaching through special classes in 2011, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, Special Needs Education Division). The reality is that the rate of public elementary and junior high schools with such classes is 9.6%, almost one in ten schools. The rates of special needs children who took special classes in their own schools and those who did so at other schools were 42% and 53% respectively. These numbers show that it is easy for children enrolled at schools with special facilities to use them, but difficult for children enrolled at schools without their own facilities. This disparity in the usability of special needs education has been brought up frequently in the media and prompt action is called for.
In-school classrooms for special needs children can sometimes also function as a place where the children can control themselves when confronted with difficult situations. Because special needs children attending a school that has its own facilities can receive the support they need on a daily basis, we often hear of children enrolling from outside that school's district.
Increasing need for special learning classrooms
The incidence of developmental disabilities is 6.3% according to the final report, which raises awareness of the fact that such children exist in all schools. In reality, the number of children attracting concern has increased with the launch of special needs education. There are various reasons for this, including growing awareness among teachers of educational needs, and expectations on schools to continue providing support for new pupils who have previously been identified as having a disorder by consultations at centers for developmental disorders for pre-school children or by experts who go around visiting kindergartens.
Disorder diagnosis criteria also need to be reviewed to include educational needs in multiple fields. There are children who have been waiting one or two years for special needs teaching. The fact is that problems are piling up, such as the increase in numbers of children requiring special classes and how to train teachers who can take those classes.
Expectations of teaching from childhood
I feel that the three most important points about having special needs teaching during childhood are as follows.
(1) Learning or practicing social skills helps to foster a sense of self-esteem in children.
(2) Such teaching can be expected to have a positive influence on children's self-awareness in later adolescence.
(3) Toward the realization of a society of coexistence, such teaching is a meaningful experience in order to understand disorders, even for normally developing children.
While writing this article, I have been thinking over the many children I have met in my clinic. Some who have become adults, university students, high school students, and so on will face with several obstacles preventing them from being self-reliant. But in the context of the progress they have made so far, those children can see that they have their parents who have patiently fulfilled their role as mentors from the viewpoints of the children, their teachers who have come to understand them better, and friends in the community. I never stop hoping that children's developmental disorders will be noticed in early childhood so that they can receive treatment and education soon, and that the skills they acquire will provide a foundation for them to live comfortable lives.