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Diagnosing Learning Issues

Japan With Kids - Forums: Education in Japan: Diagnosing Learning Issues
By Orchids on Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - 5:14 pm:

My son 6 goes to an International School. There are some problems with him at school that I concern . If you are an international school teachers, I should be very grateful if you would give me some advice and opinion.

By Jayhawk on Thursday, November 22, 2007 - 4:29 pm:

Hi Orchids,
I know this is a very sensitive issue, but I think you'll get some comments if you are more specific about the "problems" that your son has at school. Are you worried about your son's language skill? Is he having trouble fitting in?

By Orchids on Friday, November 23, 2007 - 9:58 pm:

Thankyou Jayhawk.
My son's teachers are concerning that my son has developmental problems.

First, they say that my son sometimes does not want to participate in groups activities and sometimes it seems that he chooses to be alone apart from his friends.

Second, his teachers are very concerned about his writing ability.

I called education consultation section at our ward office, Tokyo Children consultation and National Children hospital in Setagaya to discuss about the 2 points. All the answer I got is that there is nothing to worried about my son. I also feel that my son is just shy as many Asians are.

About his writing skills, they have a certain test to examinate whether it is still in normal range or not. But all the tests are in Japanese. My son understands Japanese but not as much as 6 years old Japanese children do.

The school that my son goes seems not to have certain standard on how far a children should be able to write at a certain level. They keep saying that he is behind his classmates.

I would like to know if there is a standard on how far a kid should be able to write in G1 in English schools. In Japanese school, they teach G1 students hiragana, katakana and 80 kanjis through. At the school that my son goes, G1 students have tasks to write a short composition about their family the first day they come to the school as G1 students.

Any opinion and advice is highly appreciated. Thanks

By Kurz on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 2:01 pm:

Sometimes, a kid is slow picking up certain skills because of the bi-lingual environment. My daugther was about 6 months behind in speaking, and a few years later she was very slow to start reading. She operated on the de-coding level far longer (several years) than "normal", though in many other respects such as verbal communication she was "ahead" of many of her classmates. Personally, I thought she was just being lazy thinking that from her point of view she didn't need to read, so she decided not to. But I don't know that it was really that way for her.

These days, there are a lot of learning issues that some kids are having, that were not even defined when I was a kid.

I have quite a lot of friends who are going through this with their kids. The progression of recognistion varies from family to family. Particularly mothers/parents with only one child, sometimes are in denial of learning needs that their child may have. But even those with more than one child can sometimes miss something when the child in question is high performance in some areas.

In other words, if the teachers are saying things that are not exactly clear, but keep aiming at a performance issue, they might be trying to carefully express worry without saying anything too directly. At this point if a parent has any gut feeling that there might really be a problem, it is BEST TO GET HELP. The bottom line is that the sooner such a question is answered, the sooner something can be done to help the child, if help is needed. It's a fact that early intervention can make the difference in the child's life and ability to function as an adult.

Since learning is so completely tied in with language and culture, it is essential to find professionals who can assess learning issues in the child's mother tongue. This also is very important so that the parents can understand what is being done.

Japanese testing might be useful with non-verbal kids (such as infants or low-functioning autism). But otherwise really not.

For testing, some of the other larger schools have professionals on staff that can help guide the parent. For example, Tokyo International School, American School in Japan and maybe some others. I would definitely look on-line for some simple tests that I could administer myself as a parent. There are descriptions, for example, of autism symptoms (which includes a very wide spectrum learning issues from severe to very mild, so this is pretty tricky).

In Tokyo/Yokohama, there are only a handful of English speaking professionals. A lot of my friends have had their kids assessed over summer break back in their home countries.

TELL (Tokyo English Lifeline) is a resource. They can give some advice.
Free, anonymous phone counseling
Daily 9:00AM - 11:00PM

Other possible resources are listed at:

By Sandy on Monday, February 25, 2008 - 2:17 pm:

Here's an e-list for parents home-schooling and after-schooling Gifted Kids who also have learning disabilities. They share resources and other information. Maybe someone there can help with some advice on diagnosing a learning issue.

* * * * *

Homeschooling Extraordinary Kids
Hello, I host an international forum for parents of homeschoolers who are Gifted with a Learning Disability. The forum has a database on all types of homeschooling topics including international sites as well as Gifted - LD - Gifted with LD resources. Current members represent the countries of Canada, UK, Australia, Thailand and the USA.
Created: Apr 17, 2004, Members as of today: 918
Gail, moderator and list owner

By Anita_n on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 11:11 am:

I was told our son (growing up in a bilingual household) had developmental delays when he was just 11 months old (he apparently didn't have "enough words in his vocabulary"!), which in retrospect might seem rather crazy, but that's what they told us back when we lived in the US. We ended up taking him to speech, occupational and physical therapy to work through the plethora of potential "problems" he had over the next 2 years, as well as getting him tested on several occasions for autism...and at the ripe old age of 3 1/2, he was finally cleared of any real issues. He is currently a happy 1st grader going to international school, and is thankfully doing well both socially and academically.

Although the possibility of him having some sort of delay seemed daunting at the time, I have to say that the various therapies did help him come out of his shell, and I'm glad the services were available to us through state funding.

Out of interest, I used to pore over Japanese language sites discussing developmental delays and their diagnoses, and it seems early intervention generally starts a lot later in Japan than it does in the US (usually around age 3 - although this is info I read some 5 years ago, so things may have changed in the meantime). I kept reading over and over of how a lot of parents of toddlers concerned with the possibility of delays were told there's "nothing to worry about" at their local health center/pediatrician, only to find that when the kids are about to enter kindergarten at age 3, there actually is a problem. This rather late acknowledgment of the parents' concerns sometimes leads to the kids being rejected by the mainstream system altogether.

I'm in agreement with Kurz when it comes to getting help - it's often beneficial to get an outsider's objective perspective, if only to put your mind at rest. Perhaps you could ask your child's teacher for ideas on what steps you could take - they might have some useful suggestions/resources at the school. Good luck!

By Tesselator on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 11:17 am:

this might be another consideration:

By Bunny on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 11:56 am:

Every one of those links is full of vitriolic diatribe about how evil governments are ruining your health with nasty poisons in the water.

What possible purpose could that sort of advocacy serve here? This discussion is about learning difficulty, not ill-conceived paranoia.

Obligatory on topic:
I find the late diagnosis in Japan somehow unsurprising. Possibly it is a throwback to the supposed superiority that got the country into all sorts of trouble.

In fact, the whole apathetic response to special educational needs must be particularly distressing to parents. The ones in my area that I see occasionally look extremely frazzled. Pensioners get better support.

By Farene on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 - 12:44 pm:


I read that bilingual children often appear to have smaller vocabulary when tested in one language, when in fact the combined vocabulary of both languages may exceed that of their peers. Might it be helpful to seek a second opinion from child speech/ developmental consultants who have experience in handling learning disabilities for bilingual children?


By Tesselator on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 5:06 am:

Bunny, skip the paranoia part and just focus on the information...

Some of Japan's water is fluoridated.

Fluoride has been known to cause learning disabilities.

Pretty simple right? No paranoia needed. No evil government conspiracies required.

By Lindagondo on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 9:23 am:

This discussion seems somewhat related to my daughter`s situation at the moment.My daughter has been attending year one at the local shougakkou for the last year. Socially now she seems happy enough there, however academically I do have several concerns.

Firstly, even though her Japanese is quite good, it is still not native level, and some areas such as kokugou and certain types of mathematics problems where the questions are written in Japanese are still very difficult for her, and she tends to get discouraged. I was worried that in year 2 things would get even more complicated, and even though her Japanese would undoubtedly improve, she would be always be struggling and become more discouraged because of the language problem and miss certain key concepts. Secondly, since we are due to go back to Australia in a year or two I was concerned that if we kept her in shougakkou for too long that she would find it hard to adjust to life in an Australian school. So to make the transition smoother,we decided to try to enrol her into an international school. I was quite hopeful that she would be accepted because I have been quite diligent about afterschooling her in English reading and writing skills.

She went for an assessment at one international school who told us that although her reading was excellent, she needed to work on her writing skills and English vocabulary was below standard for her age. Mathematics and Japanese weren`t tested. We were told that they couldn`t recommend admission at this stage.

At another interational school I was told that her writing was OK, mathematics good, Japanese language was `native-like` and her Japanese comprehension and communication very good, however she was basically a non-reader in English. I was surprised and baffled by the `non-reader` information, as at home she is reading books above the standard recommended by the assessing school. I just can`t work out why she wasn`t reading well in the assessment. Her ability to tell a story in English from pictures she was shown was difficult for her.They also said they couldn`t recommend admission at this stage also.

I`m quite confused about it all and we`ll be going for an assessment at another international school soon so it will be interesting to see what they say, but regardless of what happens I think I will take her to somebody independent of a school to assess her.

If my daughter was mono-lingual it would be much easier to find a baseline as to where whe is academically, and diagnose a learning disability if she has one, however I think being bilingual makes it that much harder.

By Bunny on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 10:23 am:

Fluoridated water, I WISH! Have you actually paid any attention to Japanese kid's teeth? But enough of that idiocy. Dentists make a huge profit.

Doubtless, International schools would prefer you not to mention names, but I am sure parents here would love to hear that "oyomesan gakko" will let anyone female in, whereas the british school refused same $girl yet the following year accepted $boy without so much as an ability test.

The opacity of the entrance requirements helps no one.

I think you should leave your daughter in Japanese school, when you move back to Australia, all the other kids will think it is "so cool" (Or whatever they say in OZ)

I gave up on international schools, I have better things to waste what little money I have on.

By Natasha on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 - 11:58 am:

I have to agree with Bunny, that the whole International School mystique is enough to make one gag. Even ASIJ with all it's PhDs employed there seem to have zero tolerance for any child that does not fit their wished for profile. They won't take a high performance Asperger's. They don't want to mess with anything marginally challenging. Blah, blah. So what exactly are you paying for anyway?

Back to the original question: I think a mother knows deep inside when something is not right. She may pretend that it's not there for a while, but sooner or later, she has to admit it. The parents are the child's best and often only advocate, when the child can not speak up for itself.

For example, here are some questions for Orchids:
AT HOME, does your son communicate effectively with his family (where presumably he is not shy)?
Does he use more than one language (your family is tri-lingual, I think?)
Is he well advanced over his younger sibling, or does his younger sibling seem to be catching up too fast or surpassing him?

I think just from these very few questions you can already determine that maybe he's normal, but just very shy, and slowed down a bit by his multi-lingual environment, OR that maybe there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

By the way, New International School in Ikebukuro welcomes kids from multi-lingual households, and takes into account learning differences caused by multi-lingual environments. They get criticism for not keeping the kids on track with academic standards used in certain other schools. However, their goal is to have child-centered curriculums and to teach problem-solving rather than rote learning. In other words their goal is to teach children how to learn effectively on their own, and they think that a student can always make up the differences later once good thinking habits have been acquired. All is not perfect there, but it's one of the better attitudes I've seen, even if there is some autocracy emanating from the top (as in most educational institutions).

But, Linda, Bunny has a point. Keep your daughter where she is, and spend the money on afterschooling, lots of trips, etc. She'll do fine. Believe it or not, a lot of kids have trouble in first grade, no matter what school, just because it is very structured and "challenging" compared to kindergarten. First grade is tough for over 50% fo the kids.

Oh, Tessalator, though I agree that there isn't any real data to support water flouridation as being effective against teeth decay, I also think it is really bull-headed to insist on including it in this discussion. There is a separate discussion on Flouride. Go rant there. I know kids brought up on bottled water who have learning issues. You're just stirring up air.

By Tesselator on Friday, February 29, 2008 - 6:54 am:

Hehehe bullheaded me... :D

But I gotta ask... Stirring up air??? :o

By Edlyn on Friday, February 29, 2008 - 7:41 am:

Hi Linda. I wasn't getting updates for awhile so just got this post. Sorry to hear about your troubles getting into International School. I know you mentioned last summer you were going to go this route. I haven't tried here but have looked at it in the States and find it rather arbitrary as well. Plus I'm just not good at jumping through hoops and that seems to be a prerequisite.

I wouldn't worry about how your daughter does in Australia because I am sure she will do fine. She will probably be ahead academically in many areas when you return. But you might check to see what the expectations are at the grade level she will be entering. We have a number of workbooks from the States that we follow including a series called "100 Words" It is put out by Scholastic and has the words they should be reading by each grade, through 5th I believe. Anyway, might be different than Australia but you can check it out on Costco also has a lot of grade appropriate workbooks.

You are a much better teacher than you probably give yourself credit for. Sorry if I'm off topic.

By Lindagondo on Friday, February 29, 2008 - 9:12 am:

This is such a wonderful website. Thanks so much to those who wrote in for all the encouragement as well as the information! I feel much better about the whole situation now. It`s so easy to lose perspective of the big picture living here and it really makes such a difference knowing that there are other people out there who may have encountered this problem.

Thanks again,


By Robpat on Monday, March 3, 2008 - 8:57 am:

I've been lurking and had to comment...

As a mother of a very highly intelligent but extremely socially challenged son of 8 with PDD-NOS, TS and PANDAS I have to agree with Natasha. My kids were both born in Japan so we've run the gammit of diagnosis and 90% of the diagnosing was done by Mom and confirmed by specialists that I had to search out. Moms know best, and we have to keep at it for the sake of our kids. I was told from age 2 that he was fine, he'll grow out of it. At age 3.5 I was told to put him in a home, and leave him there (all this in Japan). But after many years of traditional and non-traditional methods he's competing at grade level, is bilingual (English/French) with enough Japanese to order in a restaurant or tell a taxi where he lives. He started in hoikoen, went to the French Lycee (yikes! if your child is not in that perfectly wrapped box) for 5 years, and we moved him to TIS this last September. He is still a high maintenance child, but he's meeting his goals and mine.

His verbal fluency has always been fine. It's taken about 6 months to catch up on the written ability, but I have always done some work in that area at home. Not a full load mind you, but had him write my grocery list in English, help me fill out forms, his Grandmother would write postcards and he had to respond, etc.

As for the international school thing, as a past IS teacher and a Mom of a child who was both declined and accepted... if you're happy and your child is happy, don't move. Seek outside activities in the target language. If you are unhappy in your setting, as we were, seek an alternative. They are hard to find, but there are some out there, surprisingly. I've even found an Autism specialist who gives my son social skills classes once a week to help him learn body language and communication skills. Just keep in mind you want SMALL classes, native speakers of the target language as teachers and be willing to supply what ever support the teacher needs to help your child meet his/her potential.

By Lindagondo on Thursday, March 6, 2008 - 1:33 pm:

Above is an interesting article that I found regarding bilingualism. I suspect sometimes (although of course not always) students are diagnosed as having a learning disabiity when really they are just needing to take the time to assimilate two languages. It must be quite easy to misdiagnose, particularly if the teacher does not speak the child`s native language.

By Lindagondo on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - 10:39 pm:

Just following on from my previous post, with the whole international school assessment saga. Someone who is going through a similar thing with their child may find the information useful.
The results at the third international school were different yet again. This time to my relief reading was `going well` and writing was `on track`. This more or less correlated with my own assessment of how things are going. Don`t know yet if she has been accepted or not yet but I am cautiously optimistic.
Quite strange how the results were so different......bizarre actually. So much depends upon I guess how comfortable the child is with the testing teacher, the methods they use, expectations as well as their understanding of and experience with teaching bilingual children. I think the whole experience has taught me that it is arbitrary as someone had said previously, and there is a also lot of ignorance and certainly a definite negative bias towards bilingualism at some of the international schools. What a pity......

By Kurz on Thursday, March 13, 2008 - 1:46 pm:

Dear Linda, and Robin, Bunny, Edlyn, etc.
Thanks for adding to this topic. It is such an important one! The sad thing is that there are parents out there, who don't know how or where to seek peer experiences to verify, guide and support their own journey, and end up frustrated, angry or discouraged to the point of giving up.

If you think someone is having a hard time, please reach out. For example, if you are in contact with a child that seems to be very badly behaved, don't automatically blame the mother. If you can (and I know this is hard), try to support the mother. I firmly believe that there is no such thing as an inherently "bad" child. There is always another explanation for bad behavior. Also, people who have never had their own kids, should probably stay out of it. Their expectations are frequently age-inappropriate. This can apply to younger educational staff who have no child-rearing experience and are relatively new to the job of teaching, and it can also apply to older educational staff that is just plain "burned out".

The worst thing is when a mother is so frustrated that the relationship with her child(ren) is undermined. We tend to believe that people working in education should be experienced and wise, but it is often not the case. There are loads of mediocre teachers in private schools as well as in public school systems, and even more school administrators with a poor understanding of how children actually learn, and become adults. Always concentrate on the concept of alternatives! Search for them. Define them. Use them. Even when things get very discouraging, keep in mind that for the child's sake, there must be some way to move forward!

By Lavmom on Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - 2:11 pm:


This maybe a bit lttle.

You can try Tokyo YMCA International school. They have many students who have moved from a japanese school. The teachers are very caring and supportive. They also have excellent program for students whose first language is not English.
Here the class size is small and students get a
lot of individual attention. The fees are also
less than other international schools.
Big international schools with large enrollments cannot give individual attention to students.

Hope this helps.

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