Cultural sensitivity in the delivery of disability services to children: A case study of Japanese education and socialization

Misa Kayama, Wendy Haight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This ethnographic study examined beliefs about disability and related socialization and educational practices at a Japanese elementary school. Disability is a universal issue affecting child welfare and educational systems around the world. Yet, relatively little sociocultural research has focused on non-Western children with disabilities. This limitation restricts our understanding of the extent to which and how cultures vary in their responses to disability, and the impact of these variations on children's development. Public schools in Japan recently implemented formal special education services for children with "developmental disabilities," a new category used by educators to refer to "milder" difficulties in children's acquisition of social and academic skills, for example, learning disabilities, ADHD and Asperger's syndrome. This transition created a dilemma for educators: blending new requirements of providing individualized support with traditional Japanese socialization and educational practices of raising and educating children within peer groups. Participant observation, in-depth interviews, and longitudinal case studies of children with developmental disabilities addressed culturally- and developmentally-sensitive practices employed by educators. Educators were sensitive to stigma, involved peers in supporting one another, created home-like classrooms, guided children towards voluntary cooperation, and provided support and guidance to parents. Broad implications for the design of culturally-sensitive disability services are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-275
Number of pages10
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


  • Children
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Disability services
  • Japanese special education
  • Socialization practices


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