Deepen surveys, research to provide adequate support

The number of children who have difficulty with learning, building interpersonal relationships and other aspects of school life is said to be increasing. It is important to establish a support system designed to match each person’s characteristics by conducting surveys and research from various angles.

A survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has found that 8.8% of children covered by the poll and who are enrolled in regular classes at public elementary and junior high schools nationwide may have developmental disorders. The figure was up more than two percentage points from the previous survey conducted 10 years ago, indicating that there are about three such children in a class of 35 students.

Developmental disorders are believed to be caused by impairments in brain function that exist from birth. Such disorders include learning disabilities, which cause difficulty reading, writing and calculating; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the symptoms of which include inattentiveness; and autism spectrum disorder, which is associated with difficulty in recognizing emotions in others.

The survey targeted more than 50,000 elementary and junior high school students, and homeroom teachers and others checked whether they showed signs of developmental disorders. The survey results were not based on diagnoses by doctors, but the fact that a certain number of children showed various difficulties must be taken seriously.

Among the items checked in the survey were learning problems, such as noticeable grammatical errors, and behavioral problems, such as difficulty waiting for one’s turn and a lack of empathy. Some of the children surveyed had both learning and behavioral problems.

This year, the central government notified local boards of education that newly hired teachers must have at least two years’ experience as homeroom teachers of classes for special needs children or other relevant positions. It is an urgent task to implement such measures steadily to train teachers who can provide specialized support.

Support plans need to be created to address each child’s characteristics. For example, it would be effective to provide children who are sensitive to sound with a quiet learning environment. It is hoped that principals and boards of education will also be actively involved in offering support rather than leaving this matter solely to homeroom teachers.

The ministry believes that the increase in the number of children with developmental disorders is attributable to a better understanding of these disorders, among teachers and parents who are now more likely to be able to notice children with such difficulties.

Furthermore, the ministry has pointed to the possibility that the increase is also linked to children’s reduced exposure to words and letters as well as in-person conversations as they increasingly play video games and use smartphones.

In-depth surveys and research are needed to determine how smartphones and games affect developmental disorders, which are believed to be congenital. Cooperation with doctors is also called for.

Some people who are considered to have developmental disorders have special talents, such as outstanding concentration. It should be remembered that the talents of such people could bloom further with adequate support.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 22, 2022)