by Matt Barker, Learning Support
On April 20, 2019, YIS hosted the third annual SENIA conference. SENIA, the Special Education Network and Inclusion Association, is a voluntary organization focused on advocating for resources and support for individuals who have learning differences. It's vision is ‘to live in an inclusive world where every individual is supported, resources are accessible, potential is maximized, and action is inspired.’
SENIA was started in China in 2002 by a group of international educators, to create a support network for educational professionals working with individuals with Special Educational Needs In Asia (hence the name SENIA). The organization’s remit has grown and now includes many other regions of the world, resulting in its rebranding to the Special Education Network and Inclusion Association.
YIS has been at the forefront of promoting SENIA in Japan. It helped found SENIA Japan in 2015 and supported its first annual conference at Kobe Canadian Academy in April 2016. YIS also hosted the SENIA Asia conference in February 2017, where we welcomed delegates from across Asia and keynote speakers from North America and the UK. Holding SENIA conferences for both Japan and Asia is a fantastic opportunity for schools to further advocate for learners with differences both within their local community and beyond.
During our third annual conference, I gave a 10-minute presentation on ‘Reframing Dyslexia’ and ran a 75-minute practical workshop on supporting learners with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a neurological difference which primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. It is thought to affect up to 20% of the general population. My intention was to highlight the many strengths of dyslexics. A 2018 report completed by EY and Made By Dyslexia noted that ‘cognitive flexibility, creativity, visualization and complex problem solving - all recognized as key strengths of dyslexic individuals - will become increasingly valuable as all sectors of industry embrace new technology in what is often termed as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’’ Thus my message was that we must always first consider the strengths of individuals with dyslexia, indeed, any individual who might be classed as having a difference. This message also blended well with my second point. We need to make inclusive language choices when referring to learners who learn differently. Hence even within this article, you will see that I have avoided language which uses deficit terms such as ‘disability’. Using such terms as ‘difference’ helps us to adopt a growth mindset towards all learners.
Throughout the conference, we had volunteers from across Japan presenting on a wide range of challenges facing our learners. Presentations included the importance of translanguaging in the classroom, supporting learners with language disorders, navigating the complexities of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and practical strategies to support learners with Dyslexia. The conference was a great success and SENIA Japan continues to grow and evolve. It is always thoroughly empowering to be in the company of like-minded educational professionals committed to raising awareness for some of our more vulnerable learners.