The experiences of Japanese elementary-school children living with 'developmental disabilities': Navigating peer relationships

Misa Kayama, Wendy Haight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This article focuses on children's experiences of the evolving Japanese special education system. Relatively little disability research has focused on non-Western children, which restricts our understanding of the extent to which and how cultures vary in their responses to disability, and the impact of those differences on the developing child. 'Developmental disabilities' is a term used by Japanese educators to refer to various neurologically-based conditions which cause 'milder' difficulties with school functioning, for example, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD), and Asperger's Syndrome. Public schools in Japan recently implemented formal special education services for children with developmental disabilities. Our previous ethnographic research at Greenleaf Elementary School described how educators and parents balanced new requirements to provide formal individualized services with traditional Japanese practices of educating and socializing children within peer groups, in part, through practices that encourage supportive peer relationships. Using a longitudinal, multiple case study design, we describe how three children with developmental disabilities experienced these socialization practices, focusing on their active, individual efforts to connect with peers. Prior to their involvement in special education, all three children struggled with peer relationships. Over time, they used opportunities provided by educators to connect with peers and find their Ibasho, a place where they felt comfortable and accepted, within their peer groups. Children developed relationships with peers through self-regulating contact with them, and through their specialized interests and play. Understanding the experiences and creative responses of children from diverse cultural and subcultural groups provides a unique perspective from which to view our own disability policies and practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-571
Number of pages17
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013


  • Children's development
  • Japan
  • cultural sensitivity
  • disability
  • peer relationships


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