This week Stephen is actually back home in the U.S. after an extensive trip to main land China and most recently a few days in Japan!
Kathleen: Well Stephen, welcome home! I understand that your last few days in Japan were more vacation than business, but what can you share with us about your stay there?
Stephen: Visiting Japan was a lot of fun. An interesting contrast with China. We visited Nara and Tokyo.
Kathleen: Just to recap, you were in Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, and Suzhou. What were the most obvious differences between main land China and Japan?
Stephen: Japan seems to be quieter and cleaner than China. Although in contrast from when I visited China 5 years ago. That country seems much cleaner and quieter then before which is good. 5 years ago I had to throw out my shoes after visiting Beijing and Shanghai. This year my shoes came home. Work is needed on cleaning up the air pollution though.
Kathleen: Oh my goodness! So that is a marked improvement in the quality of life for the city dwellers there at any rate.
Stephen: Yes. Their subway is lovely. Airconditioned and quiet stations. And clean.
Kathleen: You were in Nara and Tokyo....what were some of the highlights of your trip there?
Stephen: Nara was the first capital of Japan and the city is very traditional in nature. We visited their Deer Park where wild deer wander free and are friendly. They approach and interact with people. It's like being in a park with a bunch of friendly dogs.
Kathleen: How fascinating. I never would have thought to associate deer with Japan...and what a beautiful setting to encounter them in.
Stephen: It was a lot of fun and quite lovely. There was also a festival of lights at night. Thousands of lit candles along the streets and in the parks. People walked about in traditional Japanese clothing.
Kathleen: How lovely. What was the length of your stay in each city?
Stephen: We stayed for two days in Nara and one day in Tokyo to visit a friend of my wife's.
Kathleen: Does Liu Yi speak Japanese as well then?
Stephen: Just a few words... like me. However, their words are close enough for her to communicate via written language.
Kathleen: Excellent. Now I know that you did not visit any schools on this trip to Japan, but to your knowledge do the regions of Japan where you visited approach autism/aspergers and special abilities similarly to China or the U.S.?
Stephen: Japan has recently enacted a Special Education law which is encouraging although they are in the early stages of implementation. There is some activity on autism going on such an Autism Society of Japan and an Asperger group in Nagoya. In Tokyo there is the well-known Musashino Higashi Gakuen which is considered to be the "mother ship" of the Boston Higashi School. I visited that school in Tokyo 4 years ago and found it fascinating.
The Musashino Higashi Gakuen is known as an elite private education school with a long waiting list with about 1,700. They just happen to have over 500 children there with autism. After a period of initial guidance the children with autism are included in the regular education classes. For the uninitiated eye, it can often be difficult to tell the difference between the children with autism and those without.
Kathleen: That is certainly something I like to hear! Does the initial guidance phase take place at the same campus as the regular education classes?
Stephen: The initial guidance phase takes place on the same campus but in separate classrooms.
Kathleen: I see. And does this phase include behavior interventions for the successful inclusion of the student? Is that the premise? And what is the typical duration?
Stephen: Yes. There are interventions and education to teach children with autism to get along in the regulareducation environment. As for the duration, I don't know. It may have to do with the developmental progress of each child. The interesting thing about their approach, which is translates to "Daily Life Therapy" is that it was developed for typical education. It just happens to work well for children with autism too.
Kathleen: The Boston school is based on the same program?
Stephen: Yes it is. The major difference is that the Boston school is made up entirely of students on the autism spectrum. The Boston school is the only school I know of where the cafeteria does not smell like an institutional cafeteria.
Kathleen: Have you spent much time observing the classrooms there in Boston?
Stephen: Yes I have and I have done a number of workshops there.
Kathleen: Oh very good...and what might a typical day look like there at the Boston Higashi school? What is the basic daily routine?
Stephen: Daily Life Therapy (DLT) should probably be referred to as Daily Balanced Living because there is emphasis on keeping a good balance between the physical, emotional, and intellectual components of life. The day starts with a 2-mile jog around the school. There is intensive physical education throughout the day with gymnastics, riding unicycles, walking on stilts, trampoline, etc. Once the physical component is in order there is focus on emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is achieved through building proficiency in self-care skills and a fine arts program. In fact, the covers to three of my publications consist of artwork from the Boston Higashi School. Every child learns to play recorder and some continue to join a Jazz band. Then intellectual stimulation is addressed through a school curriculum.
Kathleen: I must say, it sounds like an extremely impressive program by any standards. The focus on physical education is particularly interesting. Is there conscious intent to develop neurological function? Or is that just a happy concomitant by product of these activities? In Japan is there just as intensive a focus on the physical education in the 'regular education' schools?
Stephen: There is a specific attempt to develop neurological function through physical education. Also just good old common sense that a person who is fit sleeps, works, and generally just lives better. I don't know if there is as intensive a focus on physical education in the Japanese regular education system.
Kathleen: That makes perfect sense. I wondered, though, whether the emphasis on the physical was specifically for the differing abilities segment of the population.
This sounds like a very interesting model for the whole autism community to study and learn from.
Stephen: It is very interesting and there is much to learn from this model. More about DLT can be found at the Boston Higashi Website www.bostonhigashi.org and my Understanding Autism for Dummies book where I contrast a number of different approaches including the Miller Method at www.millermethod.org, Applied Behavior Analysis, TEACCH, Floortime, RDI, and SCERTS.
Kathleen: This was actually the subject matter for your dissertation, was it not?
Stephen: Yes it was. The idea that we should be comparing approaches with the goal of matching best practice to the needs of children on the autism spectrum.
Kathleen: The concept of a 'one size fits all' approach is rapidly coming to an end...thank goodness. The more success stories that become known, the more credence is given to a dynamic approach.
Stephen: I like to think we are working towards a point to where people with autism leading fulfilling and productive lives becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Kathleen: Wonderful sentiment....and you, Stephen, are integral in making that a reality!
Stephen: It's an honor that I am able to do so.
Kathleen: If we could go back for a moment to your time spent in Japan, I'm sure there are more interesting things you might share with us!
Stephen: Indeed there are. Japan is an sensorially, autistically friendly place.
Kathleen: That sounds intriguing!
Stephen: The rules of interaction are clear and people respect each other's space – even if they are all smooshed together on a crowded subway. Such conditions feel less invasive than they do in the United States.
Kathleen: I saw a comment on one of the Facebook pages a few days ago from a young woman with Aspergers. She said that in Asia, she didn't 'Feel' autistic. Do you think this could be largely due to what you have just described?
Stephen: I think there is a lot to be said for that.
Kathleen: Are there other examples of how Japan in sensorially friendly that you can share?
Stephen: Most of the restaurants have mock-ups of their menu offerings which provide great visual supports. There is also a lot of information provided at public transportation stations. For example, you know how many minutes before the next train arrives and if there will be a delay instead of just waiting around wondering when the next ride will be. There's also no tipping in restaurants, taxis, or anywhere else so that entire area of possible frustration is eliminated. It also means people are paid what they should be instead of having to depend on tips to make a living.
The language may be autistic-friendly because it's picture rather than letter-based but I don't have enough experience with it to say.
Kathleen: It sounds as though thought is given to support people of differing abilities, 'seamlessly'....and without a great deal of fanfare. This seems like a very nice model for us to take a look at here in the U.S.
Stephen: One thing I've found in all my travels is that there is always something to learn from what people are doing in other countries.
Kathleen: Understanding that we don't 'know everything' opens an entire world of doors! The more we work in cooperation with others, other countries, other districts other philosophies....the more complete the picture becomes.
Stephen: I agree. No one has all the answers but by working together we can find a many of those answers.
Kathleen: Very well said. Thank you Stephen for sharing with us about your trip to Japan.Stephen: It's been a pleasure. This week shall be spent at home preparing for Fall classes.
Kathleen: And I certainly hope it has time allotted for some well deserved rest and relaxation after all your travels!
Stephen: Indeed it does. My wife and I have just been staying home doing nothing.
Kathleen: Good for you! Looking forward to a new school year following your fun and informative travels while watching you "Improve life for people on the autism spectrum.....One Trip at a Time!"
I'll be updating as Stephen makes the rounds at various autism spectrum conferences, presentations and related functions.
To catch our conversations, watch for the next:
Where in the World is Dr. Stephen Shore?
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