When Naoto, a university senior, clicked on one of the classes colored red and blue on his computer screen, a new window popped up showing his attendance.
“It’s obvious to the school that I’m not attending classes,” grumbled Naoto, who asked to use a fictitious name.
“That’s what this is for,” replied Takanobu Kameda, 34, a lecturer at a university in Osaka.
The two were looking at education software called Booster, which Kameda helped to develop. It’s aimed at helping students with developmental disorders to manage their class schedules.
Students who suffer from the disorder often have trouble keeping track of various class schedules and assignment deadlines.
Naoto also had trouble attending the classes themselves, forcing him to repeat a year at the university.
“Why can’t I do what other people do?” he often asked himself.
Kameda, who was himself diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, when he graduated university, understands what Naoto is going through, having experienced similar trials when he was younger.
He used to make many small mistakes, couldn’t remember his schedules and plans, and his attentiveness varied greatly depending on his interest in a subject. Symptoms vary by patient, and Kameda has had them ever since he was a child.
He got good grades at school, but had trouble keeping track of the many small details involved.
In junior high school, he once forgot a textbook for ancient Japanese writing class three times in a row, drawing the ire of the usually mild-mannered teacher. Shaken by the incident, Kameda began lugging textbooks for all of his subjects everywhere he went.
When he entered Kyoto University in 2001, Kameda couldn’t keep track of his various assignment deadlines. Remembering when to attend classes was also a big task for him. Even if he remembered the dates, he often forgot to set an alarm.
“I need to do something but I don’t know how,” is how Kameda describes that time.
As a result, he flunked many classes and had to repeat the year over, but it never occurred to him that he might have had a mental illness.
Kameda now works as a university lecturer, offering job-hunting advice to students including those with developmental disorders — a career that suits him well and gives him a sense of mission. But he had to come a long way to get there.
After graduation, Kameda started work in the accounting section of a company, where he made mistakes and was yelled at on a daily basis. It was so traumatic that he seriously contemplated suicide.
He talked about it to his friend, who told him to consult a doctor. When at last he was diagnosed with ADHD, he felt like a weight was lifted, knowing the illness was to blame.
Kameda told his girlfriend, who later became his wife, about the illness, but feared she would break up with him.
“That’s what I thought,” he recalled her saying, and nothing more.
He quit work, and for the year it took him to find a suitable career, she supported him. After starting work as a cram school teacher, he discovered the joy of teaching. If the time frame was limited, he was able to focus.
When he later moved on to become a university lecturer, he found there were students who had the same illness as him.
According to a survey conducted in fiscal 2015 by the Japan Student Services Organization, there were 2,961 students diagnosed as having developmental disorders, about 20 times the figure in fiscal 2007.
The increase is attributed to greater nationwide awareness of such disorders.
“But there aren’t enough staff trained with sufficient knowledge” to support them, Kameda said.
Wanting to help out, Kameda visited the Kyoto office of Encourage Co., a job matching company for people with development disorders, and asked its president, Takashi Kubo, for a job.
Kubo, 39, was looking to develop software to help students with developmental disorders, and told Kameda he would likely be better able to serve such students if he stayed on at the university.
That’s when the Booster software project was born.
They gathered once a week, debating the functions the software would need for hours. Features deemed necessary included an alarm to alert students to the next day’s class schedule, and a function for taking notes on the progress of multiple assignments. These were things Kameda had trouble with in his student days.
Starting in October, seven universities, including Kyoto University and Gifu University, began using a trial version of the software. University officials monitor data entered by students about class attendance and assignments, and offer advice when necessary.
“It’s easier to understand their state of affairs, making it easier for us to offer support to more students,” said a Kyoto University official.
Through experience, Kameda has also come up with strategies for avoiding mistakes. He brings everything he needs for work in a big travel bag so he won’t forget anything. He also asks his colleagues to go through the papers he prepared for class as a kind of double check.
“It’s okay to ask for help. You don’t have to be troubled all by yourself,” Kameda posted on a website for job seekers.
Kameda knows that when those students graduate, there will be fewer opportunities for them to receive support.
“Chances are, they will need to take a detour before they find a way of life that suits them best,” said Kameda. “I just hope I can make that detour a little shorter for them.”
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