Sunna Trebbin Harvard

TMH poster that says "Autism Spectrum Disorder: Strengths of People with ASD & Resources in Japan"

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts communication and behaviour. ASD affects a person’s ability to socialize with others, and can also influence the way they perceive others (Durand, 2014). In other words, the act of reading social cues and providing appropriate responses or reactions in different situations can be impaired or completely absent in individuals with ASD. These difficulties may become apparent in situations where certain reactions are expected. For example, not realizing that a friend is sad and in need of comfort, or laughing in a situation that others would not consider funny.

Since the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) was implemented, ASD is known as a spectrum disorder. This means that there is a wide variety of the type and severity of symptoms. For example, individuals with high functioning autism may have difficulties in predicting other people’s actions and understanding the wants and needs of others. However, their cognitive functioning may not be impaired due to an average overall intelligence (Durand, 2014).

What are the strengths of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

It is important to highlight some strengths related to ASD. For example, individuals with ASD are often able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time. Many are strong visual and auditory learners, which means that they learn by seeing or hearing new information. Moreover, individuals with ASD tend to excel in math, science, music or art (NIMH, 2018).

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, there is no single intervention to treat individuals with ASD. Instead, interventions focus on the person’s strengths and difficulties. The two general categories of difficulties are social communication and behavioural challenges. A neuropsychological assessment helps tailor the intervention to the needs of the individual. The foundation of most interventions are educational, and goals include increasing autonomy and quality of life of the individual with ASD, and providing support for family members (Durand, 2014).

Are there resources for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Japan?

  • Keyaki no Sato (The Zelkova Home) is an institution in Saitama prefecture built in 1985 by a group of 21 parents of autistic children. The facility provides activities and employment opportunities for adults and children with ASD. Their recent activities include a stage performance at Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater: “Tabie! Jiheisho no Musukorato” (“Let’s Go on a Trip! With Our Autistic Sons”), a play based on a book written by Yoshiko Abe, cofounder of the institution, and the mother of an autistic son.
  • The Japan Dyslexia Society is an NPO that is active in a wide range of activities, including government lobbying, consultancy, LSA (Learning Support Assistant) training sessions, as well as workshops on simulating dyslexic conditions.
  • The Autism Society of Japan consists of 25 directors and 46 counselors. The society has a membership of 6500 individuals and associate members and 7 organizations. The scope of activities promoted by the society includes counseling, research and study, and publication.

Educational Resources in Japan

  • Autism spectrum disorder is in the School Education Act as a discrete category of disability in Japan. Children with autism are taught at schools for special needs education (SNE). They can attend classes for SNE in regular schools. According to a report by the National Institute of Special Needs Education (NISE), an estimate of 20,000 children with autism attend schools for SNE, 48,000 are in classes for SNE, 7,000 using resource rooms and 84,000 in regular classes.
  • Among some alternative educational choices in Tokyo, the Montessori School of Tokyo, for example, is an international school that operates in English and utilizes a Montessori method. The curriculum accommodates students with wide academic abilities, from highly gifted children to students with Asperger syndrome (a milder form of ASD). The Musashino Higashi Gakuen, located in the Musashino city of Tokyo, is an institute for both regular and autistic students from kindergarten through high school.

Where should I seek help?

For psychological testing and counseling services in English, visit Tokyo Mental Health’s Psychology website for resources and to book an appointment. TMH’s assessment approach includes “gold-standard” psychological tests, observation, interviews, and involves a comprehensive report with time for feedback to provide advice for treatment recommendations. For more information, please contact TMH at [email protected] (9:00 AM to 9:00 PM daily)


Durand, V. M. (2014) Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinical Guide for General Practitioners.Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved on 2019-04-10 from