8-3 Special Needs Classes

8-3-1 Students in Special Needs Classes
8-3-2 Education For Students in Special Needs Classes
8-3-1 Students in Special Needs Classes

Most students in special needs classes in regular elementary and middle schools have mild intellectual disabilities and autism/emotional disturbance, and others have physical/motor disabilities, health impairments, hard of hearing, low vision and speech and language disorders. Parents and the municipal board of education decide whether children with mild disabilities attend regular classes, special needs classes in regular schools, or special needs schools. There have been no special needs classes in regular high schools.

Special classes (tokushu gakkyū) for children with mild physical or mental disabilities in regular elementary and middle schools started in April 1948 when “special education (tokushu kyōiku)” was established in special schools, special classes in regular schools, or in regular classrooms. The overwhelming majority of children in special classes were children with intellectual disabilities.

Starting in April 1964, children with speech and language disorders have special education in special classes. In 1964, 93 children with speech and language disorders attended 10 special classes in regular elementary schools (Monbukagakushō 1965). Special classes for children with autism/emotional disturbance, also started in April 1969. In 1970, 487 students with autism/emotional disturbance studied in special classes (Monbukagakushō 1972).

In April 2007, “special needs education (tokubetsu shien kyōiku)” formally started in order to meet the individual needs of children with disabilities depending on child’s type and level of disabilities. Therefore, “special classes (tokushu gakkyū)” became “special needs classes (tokubetsu shien gakkyū).” Starting in April 2009, schools can have special needs classes separately for autism (congenital disability)/emotional disturbance (acquired disability).

Despite of the decreasing number of children, the number of the students in special needs classes at elementary schools increased by 3.2 times from 44,000 in 1995 to 140,000 in 2015 and that of those at middle schools increased by 2.8 times from 22,000 in 1995 to 62,000 in 2015 (Figure 8.3.1; Table 8.3.1).

Especially after the reform of special needs education in 2007, the number of children with all kinds of disabilities in special needs classes has increased (Figure 8.3.2; Figure 8.3.3; Table 8.3.1). Children with disabilities are taught in a much smaller class, according to the “individualized education plans (IEP).” More parents consider the benefits of special needs classes in recent years.

The number of students with autism/emotional disturbance has increased by 7.3 times from 12,000 in 1995 to 90,157 in 2015 (Table 8.3.1). The government started special education for children with developmental and emotional disabilities since 1993 when the instruction for them in resource rooms started. These children had been usually overlooked before. Much more parents and teachers understand and accept special needs education for children with autism/emotional disturbance in recent years.

The number of students with intellectual disabilities has also increased by 2.2 times from 46,000 in 1995 to 100,000 in 2017 (Table 8.3.1). Children with intellectual disabilities have an identification handbook from the prefectural government after the Child Consultation Office judged that the child has intellectual disabilities. Many parents used to resist obtaining the certificate. In recent years, however, the Child Consultation Office has promoted the benefits of the discovery of the disability in the early ages and succeeded in encouraging parents to bring their child for the examination.

Table 8.3.1 Number of Students in Special Needs Classes in Elementary Schools (EM) and Middle Schools (MS) by Disability Type
Students (Total)43,85022,18973,15131,39378,85634,521139,52661,967
Intellectual disabilities28,67517,08742,08521,15344,22822,48366,72033,495
Physical/Motor disabilities1,1873743,0248933,0159763,2861,086
Health impairments1,3463321,2794491,3464802,112918
Low vision112402528324585407103
Hard of hearing8353668223548653431,075443
Speech and language disorders3,2731071,150711,223871,541150
Autism/Emotional disturbance8,4223,88324,5398,39027,93410,06764,38525,772
(Monbukagakushō 2016a)

In 2015, 201,000 students with disabilities (2.0% of all students) were enrolled in special needs classes of regular elementary and middle schools. There is no special needs classes in high schools. Most of elementary schools (78%) and middle schools (75%) have special needs classes in their own schools. The percentage of schools which have special needs classes have risen from 1995 (43% in elementary schools & 47% in middle schools).

Among 201,000 students in special needs classes, half of them (50%) are those with intellectual disabilities and another half (45%) are those with autism/emotional disturbance (Figure 8.3.4; Table 8.3.2). Almost all graduates (94%) went to high schools, including 61% to the high school departments of special needs schools (Monbukagakushō 2016a).

Table 8.3.2 Number of Students in Special Needs Classes by Disability Type in 2015
Elementary schoolMiddle schoolTotal
Intellectual disabilities66,72047.833,49554.1100,21549.7
Physical/Motor disabilities3,2862.41,0861.84,3722.2
Health impairments2,1121.59181.53,0301.5
Low vision4070.31030.25100.3
Hard of hearing1,0750.84430.71,5180.8
Speech and language disorders1,5411.11500.21,6910.8
Autism/Emotional disturbance64,38546.125,77241.690,15744.7
(Monbukagakushō 2016a)
8-3-2 Education For Students in Special Needs Classes

The ratio of students per teacher in special needs classes is 3.5 in elementary schools and 3.3 in middle schools (in 2015). The number of students per class in special needs classes is 3 (in 2011), though the maximum number is set 8 (Monbukagakushō 2016a).

The teachers in special needs classes of elementary and middle schools are not required to have license of special needs education school teachers, though it is recommended to have it. In 2015, 33% of teachers in special needs classes of elementary school and 26% of teachers in special needs classes of middle schools have teacher’s license of special needs education (Monbukagakushō 2016a).

Children with disabilities are taught from the same curriculum as regular schools, but have special courses based on their individual abilities. For example, children with intellectual disabilities can study the subjects of the lower grades and the subjects of special needs schools for children with intellectual disabilities, if necessary.

Exchange programs between disabled children in special education programs and children in regular classes have been promoted as part of human rights education. Interaction with disabled children helps children learn tolerance and acceptance of people with disabilities, and to eliminate prejudice and discrimination. It takes time for able-bodied children to become accustomed to children with disabilities. However, children need to have direct contact with disabled children in order to understand and respect them. The exchange programs also help disabled children meet and befriend other students.

Students in special needs classes might take physical education and arts and crafts together with students in regular classes. They sometimes join morning and afternoon homerooms and eat lunch together in the regular classrooms. Parents can consult with schools about the exchange programs with regular classes individually and make the individualized education program (IEP) together with the teachers.


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