How-tos | LIFELINES

Landmark dyslexia event in Yokohama aims to educate and inspire

by Louise George Kittaka

While many people probably know the term “dyslexia,” far fewer actually have a good understanding of what it involves. In a random unscientific survey of a group of my friends, one person said, “That’s where kids mix their Ds and Bs up, isn’t it?”

There’s a little more to it than that. Dyslexia is often described as a problem with the way the brain processes written information. This causes difficulties with word recognition, which in turn impacts on reading and writing. According to recent research in the United States, between 10 and 15 percent of the populations has dyslexia, yet only 5 percent of those people receive assistance.

Things are even harder for dyslexics in Japan, with many educators having no knowledge at all of the issue. Dyslexia comes under the umbrella of gakushū shōgai (learning disabilities), but in a culture where many people tend to associate “shōgai” with an intellectual problem, parents and teachers may be reluctant to label children to avoid misunderstandings and stigma.

EDGE is an advocacy and support organization for dyslexics in Japan and their families. Since 2001, this NPO has been slowly raising awareness of dyslexia among parents and educators. Fifteen years of activities will culminate in EDGE’s biggest endeavor to date — the first Asia Pacific Dyslexia Festival & Symposium (APDF), taking place on June 11 and 12 in Yokohama. The Japan Dyslexia Association is the co-organizer of the festival, the first major event focusing on dyslexia ever held in the country.

The festival side of the two-day event is designed to appeal to a wide audience, including families with children, and will feature hands-on workshops, displays and lectures, while the symposium has a more academic focus for educators.

EDGE’s founder, Eiko Todo, says that anyone is welcome to participate. There are programs of interest to children as young as 8, right through to educational experts teaching at the tertiary level.

“There are two aims,” says Todo. “First, to raise awareness of dyslexia, and second, to deepen the understanding of those who are already involved in supporting dyslexics.”

Educators and advocates from the U.S., Turkey, New Zealand and a number of Asian nations will be presenting, allowing participants to hear a global range of perspectives on dyslexia. Among the presenters is June Siew, head of DAS Academy in Singapore.

Siew sees the APDF in Yokohama as a valuable opportunity for the exchange of information and dialogue.

“This platform will be an important one for the Asian countries to come together to share our models of success, rally and push the frontiers for dyslexia intervention in Asia and beyond,” she says.

According to Siew, things have improved for dyslexics in Singapore over the past decade, particularly since a government call for greater awareness and understanding back in 2004. She notes that Japan still has a way to go before reaching this point.

“Government support is certainly valuable, without which we would not have progressed so quickly. Yet before that happens, individual organizations such as the APDF Executive Committee and the Japan Dyslexia Association have an instrumental role in raising awareness and providing support and advice to dyslexics,” says Siew.

Another important aspect of APDF will be participation by young dyslexic adults who have gone on to achieve success in their chosen fields. The hope is that interacting with such individuals will help reassure parents and inspire youngsters coping with dyslexia, helping them realize that their learning issues need not define them or their future.

Yuhi Shimomura is a Japanese national with dyslexia who made the decision to study abroad in Britain as a young teenager. Now based in Japan, he works for a major domestic advertising firm while also volunteering his time for AOAArt, an NPO for individuals with autism.

While it was a struggle, Shimomura says he was eventually able to find a niche in society where his skills are put to good use.

“I think the Japanese education system still has some way to go in terms of helping dyslexics. For example, allowing students to choose elective subjects at an earlier age would be helpful,” he says.

English support and interpretation will be available for all the events and programs at APDF. While preregistration has closed, all are welcome to sign up at the event itself. Some fees apply. See www.npo-edge.jp/educate/apdf for more information, or contact EDGE at edgewebinfo@npo-edge.jp (in English or Japanese).

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Do you know about a citizens’ group or of any other helpful resources? Comments and questions: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp