Eiko Todo says there are “thousands of children in Japan suffering from unrecognized dyslexia. Even after it is recognized, the children have practically no support from teachers, nor local education authorities.”
She speaks with feeling, as her own son is dyslexic, and went without recognition of his condition for 16 years. In primary school, he had difficulty following orders and keeping rules. “These are the most important things in Japan,” his mother said. “The other children told him he was weird; the teachers said he was lazy. He was really very bright, and used to come up with good ideas that he could not express well. We could not understand why he had so much difficulty acquiring writing skills, and later why he made so many mistakes in simple calculation when he could understand complex mathematical theories. We had a lot of trouble.”
Two years ago, Eiko and her husband sent their son, then 16, to school in England. “He was then found to be dyslexic. Teachers there are expected to recognize dyslexia very early, in first-grade children. Parents can sue them if they miss any cases. Teachers are trained to give support through subtle intervention. My son has become very confident, is now in the second year of the sixth form preparing for his A-level exams, and is looking forward to going to one of the good universities. He is very artistic, and wants perhaps to work in design and environmental architecture.”
As the child of a diplomat, Eiko coped with unusual loads of her own as the family moved across the world. Until she was 11 she lived in France, Italy and Belgium. “I spoke French, and went to international schools where I also studied Latin and Greek,” she said. “There was chaos in my head. But it did me good, as later I became an interpreter and translator.” On her return to Japan, she attended a private school where the headmaster welcomed children brought up abroad. Eventually at Keio University she studied political science.
Eiko’s grandfather, Haruhiko Nishi, had been ambassador in Britain. Her father, Tsuyoshi Hirahara, was ambassador there when Prince Hiro was studying at Oxford. She had thoughts of becoming a diplomat herself, but learned that, although the entrance test was open to women, they were not recruited. “So I gave up,” she said. She joined the Press and Information Section of the EC delegation, working as an information specialist on Europe. She married a dentist. Their daughter, now 16, also decided to go to England to study.
Two years ago, Eiko began looking into the subject of dyslexia. “I began with Web sites,” she said. “I was surprised that there was not a single page mentioning the word ‘dyslexia’ on Japanese Web sites, whereas there were many helpful American and British pages. Through a friend I discovered that in Japan this condition is called ‘learning disability.’ The Ministry of Education has just begun a survey to find out how many LDs there may be in Japan, giving LD and dyslexia the same definition. “
Already with her own professional services company, Eiko established the Japan Dyslexic Society. After considerable effort, she has succeeded in receiving certification for the society. “We want to give as much support as possible, and are trying to come up with the right materials for teaching the teachers and teaching the mothers. We want to spread understanding of the ability of dyslexic children, to introduce easy and affordable screening tests to detect dyslexia, to develop educational materials. We have a study session at the House of Representatives with Diet members, the media, teachers, educational specialists, officers from the Ministry of Education, doctors, mothers and other interested people.”
Eiko is planning to have a caravan that will tour Japan and present relevant dramas. “The time is right,” she said. “People are beginning to understand. My son suffered a lot at school because of the unawareness of teachers and others. If they had known, they could have given support as part of the school system, in the classroom. Dyslexic children with high IQs often compensate by devising their own study methods. Those who are not so bright have to be taught. We have ordinary children and extraordinary children, and they should be considered as much.”