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(Japan) 8.8% students "may have developmental disorder"; up from 6.4

Dec 16, 2022, Mainichi: 8.8% of public elementary, junior high kids in Japan may have developmental disorder: poll

TOKYO -- Some 8.8% of students [one in 11 students] attending regular classes at public elementary and junior high schools in Japan may have developmental disorders, an education ministry survey has found -- up 2.3 percentage points from the previous survey 10 years ago.

The latest survey, released on Dec. 13, indicates that roughly three students per 35-member class may have difficulties reading and writing, calculating, or with interpersonal relationships. Of these students, about 70% at each institution were not classified as needing special educational support.

"As there are few teachers with knowledge about special needs education, it is likely that these students are not receiving adequate support," an education ministry official commented….

The education ministry wants to consider providing support to children who have exhibited significant difficulties in learning and other behavior, despite having no intellectual developmental delays. The survey accordingly evaluated three specific factors -- learning disabilities, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and high-functioning autism. The results were not based on diagnoses by doctors or assessments by expert teams.

It was found that 8.8% of surveyed children at elementary and junior high schools may have at least one of the three disorders. Due to the differences in questions and other factors, a simple comparison between the latest and previous surveys is not possible. Nevertheless, the proportion of children with possible developmental disorders rose in the most recent survey compared to the previous polls in 2012 and 2002, when the figures stood at 6.5% and 6.3%, respectively. The survey was first conducted in 2002.

"As parents and teachers now have a better understanding of developmental disorders, they have become able to recognize cases where individuals previously could have been overlooked as 'restless children,'" a ministry official observed.

By type of disorder, 6.5% of children surveyed were cited as possibly having a learning disability, followed by ADHD at 4% and high-functioning autism at 1.7%. Some children may have multiple disorders.

By grade, 12% of first graders were found to have possible developmental disorders, followed by 8.6% of fifth graders, 6.2% of first-year junior high school students, and 4.2% of third-year junior high kids. These figures indicate that the older children are, the lower the proportion of children with possible developmental disorders tends to become. The education ministry speculates that this is because some symptoms such as hyperactivity tend to ease as children grow older.

The survey also asked schools about assistance provided to those children. The ratio of children recognized as being "in need of special support" by an in-house committee of teachers and the principal to discuss support systems stood at 28.7%, rising from 18.4% in the last survey.

Meanwhile, 10.6% of children were attending special classes in separate rooms or elsewhere while enrolled in regular classes, also a jump from 3.9% in the previous survey. The proportion of children for whom individual support programs have been created stood at 18.1%, more than doubling from the 7.9% in the preceding survey.

Considering better and broader public understanding toward developmental disorders over the past decade, however, a ministry official noted that the rate of increase was "not high."

The latest questionnaire targeted high school students for the first time. It emerged that 2.2% of high school students surveyed may have at least one of the three types of developmental disorders. A possible factor behind the low ratio is that some students opt to attend special needs schools upon entering high school.

Hidenori Miyazaki, a professor emeritus at Toyo University, who was involved in the survey, commented, "It's necessary to push forward schoolwide support initiatives, but it is likely that the issue is not even being discussed in school committees. It is also essential to create systems where teachers find it easier to seek advice for support from external organizations."


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