NY Seikatsu Press

(Excerpted and edited from the original Japanese)

June 19th, 2010

There are many parents with concerns about their children with learning disabilities (LD).

Children who have learning issues and whose teachers, parents and schools have decided will not perform to their greatest potential in an ordinary classroom often seek the support of special educational institutions. One such institution, “Individual U.,” is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. While not a school, Individual U. offers Japanese language instruction taught by Sae Okihara.

“Students who have LD problems often excel at skills which other kids do not have. For example, it’s often hard to believe that art created by some autistic children was not created by a professional artist.” says, Sae Okihara.

When a child is diagnosed with an LD, parents sometimes blame themselves and even get depressed. In some cases, LD children appear exactly the same as other children, so it is hard to tell a child that he or she has LD problems.  However, many LD children with ADD cannot focus in the classroom and often become too distracted to learn. Some, for example, spend class sessions looking out the window.

The staff at Individual U. communicates with parents daily and updates them on their children’s progress. In addition to course work, children at Individual U. are mentored in approaches that help them interact with others in academic settings. They also learn how to take notes properly and focus in classroom settings (through the study of Tai Chi).

Individual U. additionally creates gentle, structured approaches for students who begin to feel overwhelmed in the course of their studies. Students, for example, need only say “I am feeling overloaded” during high stress periods and mentors will adjust the speed of session and give the student the level of attention he or she needs. Individual U. mentors use this one-on-one methodology to mentor students in a variety of subjects. In addition, it offers Japanese as a second language program, an option that is becoming more and more popular.

“Japanese is entirely different from languages based on the Roman alphabet. It gives students an opportunity to start something new from the very beginning and most students embrace this challenge. Students do not get confused by Japanese, because there is no similarity to anything they already know. The Japanese language is not difficult but different. Some students memorize hiragana and katakana very quickly, probably because they have artistic talent and are able to learn the characters visually,” says Sae Okihara.

Once the students recognize these characters, for example, they can read the menu at Japanese restaurants. Their parents often cannot read them and, impressed, praise their children. These kinds of things give kids a tremendous amount of confidence.

Ms. Okihara is from Kobe, Japan and finished graduate school of Kansai University in 2000. She taught at a private junior/senior school in Amagasaki, Japan. She earned two additional MAs from New York University in 2004.

“Some of my students will stay at Individual U., but others will leave and go to schools soon. When students leave, I have mixed feelings. I’m happy for them, but sad because I know I will miss them very much,” says Sae Okihara.

“No doubt there are a lot of children (including Japanese children) in New York who suffer from an LD and I hope to be able to mentor them one day and help them build their confidence, find their true talents, and feel they belong just as they are,” says Sae Okihara, beaming.