In Japan, social awareness about developmental disorders in adulthood is on the rise, due to such coverage by TV shows and books in recent years. Developmental disorders are a group of conditions resulting from abnormal brain development. These disorders include ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ASD (Autistic spectrum disorder) and other LD (Learning disorders).
One major concern for individuals with such disorders is to find a career they are well suited for. Under the national welfare program “Shuurou Ikou Shien (employment transition support),” vocational rehabilitation centers have been extending support to those with disabilities to help them land a job that matches their skills and personalities. Many of these employment training programs tend to set up with the assumption that individuals with disabilities will only be capable of finding simple clerical positions or jobs with light duties, which restricts the range of employment options available to them.
In April 2019, Kizuki Business College (KBC), a business school for individuals with developmental disorders and survivors of mental illness, was launched with an entirely new concept. KBC features highly technical programs such as accounting, computer programming and English, encouraging students to think about diverse work styles instead of simply aiming to be a large company employee, startup worker, or freelancer.
The operations manager of this innovative school is Emi Hayashida, who was also diagnosed with a developmental disorder. The IDEAS FOR GOOD team spoke with Hayashida about the story behind KBC’s launch and her outlook for the school’s future.
Interviewee Profile: Emi Hayashida
Registered with the Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants in 2017, having passed the CPA Examination in 2013. Joined PricewaterhouseCoopers Aarata LLC in April 2015 as a university graduate. Later joined Kizuki Corporation in September 2018, where she established “Kizuki Business College,” a new career training school for individuals with developmental disorders and survivors of mental illness. The first KBC branch opened in Shinjuku in April 2019. She also engages in pro bono work at ARUN Seed, a social investment nonprofit organization focusing on developing countries. She was also diagnosed with a developmental disorder in 2016.
Issues impacting adults with developmental disorders
Q: What was the story behind this business school for individuals with developmental disorders?
I was actually diagnosed with ADHD. It was in 2016, when I was 24, although I knew for a long before that that there was something different about me. Since my school days, I’ve often forgotten where I’ve put something, or I lose things. I also tend to hyperfocus, getting too focused on something and shutting out anything else around me. I chose accounting as my first career, thinking that a normal office job wouldn’t be a sensible choice for me. I needed some professional skills to make me stand out in the job market, so I qualified as a CPA in Japan.
After the diagnosis of ADHD, I got lost in deep thought about what I could do to reframe my life. About a year later, I came to realize that many other people are also struggling with similar conditions and trying to find a better balance in their lives. I felt that offering support to those with similar hardships was my mission, and that was the start of my project.
Operations manager: Emi Hayashida (Image: ideasforgood.jp)
Q: What are the issues impacting adults with developmental disorders?
Making friends at school is relatively simple because you only need to care about whether you get along with the other person, without paying much attention to one’s competence or efficiency. On the other hand, one’s productivity and performance levels do matter when it comes to interpersonal relationships at work.
For example, if one of your school friends often loses his or her things or forgets about school assignments, you might just think that this person is a little bit absentminded, but you don’t necessarily break off the relationship. These small mistakes or errors are personal matters that only affect the person, so as long as you like him or her as a friend, you stay friends with them. In work-related situations, a small mistake by one employee could cause a delay in the entire project, or put one’s business partner or client at a disadvantage, which, in the worst-case scenario, could harm trust and the profitability of the entire organization. Since work situations involve various interests, one’s performance level is more important than one’s character and mind.
Some individuals with developmental disorders often lack understanding of social cues as they have difficulties with reading between the lines. For example, when your boss asks you for help, you may estimate the importance or urgency of the task, judging from your boss’s personality, your office’s schedule, the state of your office, and so on. When individuals with developmental disorders are given a task with implicit instruction, they often can’t really gauge how committed they should be to the task, in terms of the quality of the result or the amount of time needed.
There are many unspoken rules in society and differences between our true feelings and how we are supposed to behave in business settings, which people with developmental disorders find difficult. Children can get away with not following social expectations and are easily dismissed with a laugh when they do or say random things. It doesn’t work like that when you’re out of school, so I think adults with developmental disorders often find themselves in challenging situations.
What makes this problem more difficult is that developmental disorders are an invisible disability due to the differences in brain function from non-disabled individuals. Therefore, when these disabled people fail to meet social expectations, they can be easily misjudged and receive comments like ‘you aren’t working hard enough’ or ‘you should be more focused without making excuses.’
Q: What are the common hardships that individuals with developmental disorders face in getting or changing jobs?
One thing in common is that they have to decide how they approach the job-seeking process, that is whether to disclose their disabilities and look for a disability-inclusive job or just look for a job without revealing their disabilities. Despite the advantages and disadvantages of both options, the current social acceptance level of invisible disabilities forces these individuals to make this difficult choice.
Prioritizing support from an employee and looking for a disability-inclusive job could limit their job prospects, while prioritizing the range of job options without disability disclosure could limit the support they get from an employer. The reality is that many employers often aren’t fully aware of what it is like to deal with developmental disorders, and are unable to provide appropriate care or support to those with invisible disorders.
Learn how one’s disabilities could affect them in the workplace
Q: What kind of support does KBC offer?
We at KBC offer the following 3-step support system. Firstly, help students understand their traits/character better. Secondly, help students acquire professional skills that they feel suited to do. Thirdly, help students find a career that they feel satisfied with.
In the first step, we start off with the practice of learning about one’s own disabilities. Not all individuals with developmental disorders exhibit the same symptoms, as they have unique skills and personalities. For example, I myself have symptoms of hyperfocus, while other people with ADHD may struggle with a lack of focus. This means that you need to have a clear understanding of your traits, such as things you’re good at and not good at, what usually makes you anxious, what kind of mistakes you often make, etc. So, the initial objective of this first step is to help students attain a basic understanding of themselves.
The next thing is to help students think about how their disabilities could affect them in the workplace. Here, let’s take a person with hyperfocus as an example. Since this person completely immerses themselves in one activity, they may be perfect for creative or craft-based jobs that require meticulous attention. However, this person may not be ideal for customer service. Customer service jobs involve a constant influx of customers. If this person is taking care of something else and a customer wants their attention, they might not be able to respond to them immediately. The customer, not knowing about the attendant’s disabilities, may feel that the attendant is neglecting their role. One’s conditions can work in their favor in some cases and work against them in others, so we hope to ensure that our students learn about their own personalities and traits in this step.
KBC offers a wide range of programs, including accounting, finance, marketing, computer programming and business English. In one of their business programs, students can brush up their original business ideas from a financial and practical point of view, and present their ideas in front of business people as their final project.
KBC offers a wide range of programs, including accounting, finance, marketing, computer programming, and business English. In one of their business programs, students can brush up their original business ideas from a financial and practical point of view, and present their ideas in front of business people as their final project. (Image: ideasforgood.jp)
In the second step, we make sure our students fully understand the learning resources and offer them practical training so that they can utilize the skills they acquire. For example, students establish their basic understanding of functions in our Microsoft Excel Course, and later they are tasked to analyze some data and propose solutions and ideas. We believe that output is equally important as input.
You might expect that various social skills such as communication, time management, and business etiquette should be introduced as one of our programs. We, of course, believe that these are important, but we don’t have a course that prepares our students to acquire these social skills. Instead, we encourage students to keep their assignment deadlines or to be observant of implicit instructions and figure out their tasks throughout our programs. One of our missions is to keep them motivated to learn, not to damage their self-esteem. We thought providing a separate course to teach social skills could be counterproductive, as it might make students feel that they have so much more to achieve before thinking about professional skills.
When our students successfully complete these two steps, we move on to the last step, which is to help students find a career that they feel satisfied with.
Q: What kind of reactions have you received so far since the launch of the school?
Many students shared positive feedback with us, saying that “I learned for the first time that my disabilities can work to my advantage,” or “I feel grateful that a school like KBC exists now.” Others also told us that “KBC can now empower many people who are suffering from invisible disabilities.” We are so delighted that our program is worthwhile to our students, and we can actually have a positive impact on them. We feel that this feedback strongly validates the importance of our mission. At the same time, some aspects could be improved. We know our school is at the teething phase, so we will just continue to strive and aim for the best.
Design how you live your life
Q: What do you think of the idea of accepting developmental disorders as part of one’s unique quality?
I also like to think that we all need to accept who we are, embracing our disadvantages or personal struggles. But it is also true that developmental disorders can be treated with pills or counseling, and people do benefit from these measures, when appropriate. So, you can’t just say that “I should embrace my disabilities as my unique quality and do nothing about it.”
For example, if your eyesight isn’t good, you put on glasses. You can’t change the fact that you have bad eyesight, but glasses do help you see things better. It would be rather out of place to say that your bad eyesight is your unique quality so glasses are unnecessary, as if your visual impairment isn’t causing any inconvenience to you.
What I believe is important for people with disabilities is to have multiple strategies, such as seeking effective treatment, exploring ways to cope with their conditions, or finding out how to turn their disadvantage into an advantage. So literally speaking, this is to design how you live your life, and I hope this way of thinking will become more common.
Hayashida’s crossbody bag is one of her strategies to cope with her condition. “I used to find myself looking for my belongings. Now I tie my valuables such as my smartphone and wallet to this bag. It saves me from losing things I shouldn’t.”
Q: What kinds of immediate action can individuals with developmental disorders take to improve their situation?
I would advise them to just stop denying themselves of things. There were times I struggled with deep-seated feelings of self-hate, but now I can say that a self-defeating attitude can only lead you to destructive thinking patterns, which limits all of your options or possibilities. So, this is why it’s important to start with understanding your personality and traits. Knowing your conditions can give you a clue of how your disabilities could affect their work-life, and you can figure out what kind of strategies you can take. Be open about your conditions, so that others have a better idea of how they can support you.
Another important thing is to know what makes you excited, in addition to knowing your conditions. We are all different in many ways, so sometimes hearing some particular phrases can motivate you, or other times doing some activities can make you happy. For example, you might have heard this proverb: “when two paths open before you, take the harder one.” I know some people love being an underdog and can actually turn things around, while others take great strides when they can pace themselves. Once you know what is good for you, you don’t need to worry about what others say to you or try to follow social norms.
Q: What kind of support can non-disabled people offer to those with developmental disorders?
My advice for non-disabled people is to try to understand the thought processes of individuals with developmental disorders, in particular, how they plan and execute a task. These people often think differently to non-disabled people, but this is because they lose track of their own thinking process. So, if you give them general feedback such as “try not to make mistakes” or “try not to be too forgetful,” they might feel pressured because they simply don’t know how to.
Instead, sit down and ask them how they planned and executed a task so that they can reorganize their memories as a conversation progresses. Going through their thought processes together would make it easier for them to realize what they missed or wrongly perceived, and help them nurture self-awareness. This kind of effort could also benefit non-disabled people, helping them to discover the perspectives and challenges of people with disabilities, and learn more positive, constructive ways to communicate with each other.
When individuals with developmental disorders are tangled in thought, non-disabled people can listen to their stories and help them clear up the confusion.
A society where everyone compensates for each other’s differences
Q: What does an ideal society mean to you?
I hope people can become more accepting of others for who they are. To me, not respecting the differences of individuals equals a non-constructive society where everyone only compares one person to another. If what you care the most about is your disadvantage, you won’t be able to realize that you actually have some skills that can help you contribute to society.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can overlook your disadvantage. You should accept that nobody is perfect. Sometimes your best effort may not bring the kind of outcome that you would expect, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you face obstacles, and you don’t know what to do, there’s no shame in receiving help from those who reach out to you. We work hard to overcome our disadvantages and compensate for each other’s differences – I believe this inclusive approach would lead us further toward an ideal society where every person, regardless of their similarities or differences, feels accommodated.
Then again, you don’t need to love everyone or accept everyone. But at the same time, you shouldn’t dismiss someone without getting to know each other. Accept the fact that everyone has a unique personality, and try to put a positive spin on yourself and others. I believe taking an interest in individual differences is key for an ideal society, where everyone compensates for each other’s differences.
Q: What is your next goal?
Current employment support for individuals with disabilities in Japan tends to be programmed with the idea of amending one’s conditions that discourages them from meeting regular performance standards. On the other hand, we aim to provide programs that encourage individuals to accept their conditions first. The next thing is to help them think about themselves productively, such as how they can overcome their disadvantages or how they can improve their advantages so that our school will be a more dynamic space where individuals learn to be more comfortable in their unique personalities that come from their conditions and thrive in society.
As for the outlook of our school’s future, we are hoping to establish a business school for privately financed individuals with developmental disorders. Under the current employment transition support system of the Japanese Government, those with “borderline developmental disorder conditions,” who don’t have an official diagnosis are not covered. Since KBC’s service is part of this government program, we can only extend our support to those with a diagnosis. We believe that there are many borderline people who fall through the cracks, so we are looking for ways to reach out to them.
Q: Do you have any messages for our Zenbird readers?
Those who have failed many times or have had hard times might hold negative feelings towards being different. But I believe being different isn’t strange or something to be ashamed of. It is often the case that many historical figures or famous people also have made reckless mistakes or had very miserable experiences. So, I don’t think there’s a perfect, flawless human being.
Every single person in this world is born with some kind of inherent barriers: physical disabilities, invisible impairments from abnormal brain development, country of birth, or family environment, etc. Whatever the barriers may be, we all have to tolerate them as we often have no power to change them. Everyone’s life is different. It is important to seek to overcome your disadvantage. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to force yourself to change who you are, trying to behave like everyone else, and eventually overwhelming yourself with pressure. The key is to be comfortable with the fact that we are all different in many ways and to find effective ways to control one’s difference. Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses.
The next thing we should do is to try not to get angry about our differences, but to explore options to make up our weaknesses. If you have difficulties controlling your weakness, find a way to get support. If you know you are good at something, find a way to help someone with it. It is totally natural to have both strengths and weaknesses, so I want every one of you to know that you shouldn’t blame yourself for who you are in any way.
That being said, I’m also on my way now to deal with my own developmental disorder. But I’m willing to improve how I treat myself. If this personal struggle can bring positive ideas into our business, we might be able to reach out to more people in need.
When you believe that you are no good, it restricts your thoughts and your actions. You might not feel like you can ask for help because you don’t want to be a burden to anybody. Or you might not feel like you can explore any solutions, thinking that nothing can change your situation. Deep down in your heart, you want to stop thinking negatively—but instead, you can only criticize yourself for being too harsh on yourself, because you are too sad that you’re not moving any inch forward. You don’t deserve this kind of negative thought loop. It’s time to stop denying yourself. It is OK to feel that you need to take a break because it just means that you have worked very hard to become who you are. There’s no need to blame yourself just because you think you need a break. Instead, be proud of yourself for living through so much pain. Being able to accept who you are will open a new chapter in your life.
You can slowly build a lifestyle that is right for you; it’s not something that can be completed in a day or two. Everyone goes through a rough time, makes mistakes, and gets stressed sometimes. In a way, we are all on our long journey seeking a comfortable lifestyle, while taking a break, or making a stop from time to time. We are learning to live steadily with both our strengths and weaknesses, therefore, embrace yourself at all times, and move forward at your own pace.
(This article was originally published on Zenbird Media.)