Beyond Stereotyping

A young Japanese man and three friends smile at the camera.
Yasushi (far left) with friends.
Yasushi Miyazaki, an autistic student from Japan, explains how patience and effort paid off when studying in the U.S.

Although I was born in a small, rural town in southwestern Japan, growing up I had an interest in foreign affairs. However, my family could not imagine that their son could travel outside of Japan.

After I finished high school, I was accepted into a college for English majors. I was interested in learning overseas and visited a couple of countries for short stays, but studying abroad for the long term seemed still unrealistic. Why? There were various reasons, but one of main ones is I am on the Autism Spectrum. Because of my disability I had difficulty hanging out with others, tended to be alone, and had some hyperactivity – my family and professors were worried about my ability to study abroad. As a result, I gave up my dream to go to United States for a university exchange program.

"Many people say Autistic people cannot make friends. Now, I am disproving these stereotypical rumors about Autism."

Letting go of my dream motivated me to reflect on myself. I began reading a lot of books and academic articles about Autism and developmental disorders. I explored what aspects of society creates difficulty and oppression for people like me, and pulls opportunities out from under us.

After finishing my bachelor's degree, I went to graduate school in Japan for Policy Studies. I moved towards working on issues for persons with disabilities. I got a teaching assistantship position in disability services and learned a lot from my clients. A few weeks before my graduation, I was invited to launch a non-profit organization serving people with developmental disorders. I was assigned as the general manager and had many responsibilities in the organization. During this time, I realized that my clients were oppressed by more macro-level discourse and labor systems.

It was time for me to go overseas to study disability policy and discourse for professional development. I applied to two schools. One was a certificate of advanced study (CAS) in Disability Studies at Syracuse University in the United States – a program that had a long tradition in the disability field. For more than four months, I anxiously waited for an admission letter that finally arrived. Yes, my dream came true.

Despite my excitement, living in Syracuse, New York was not easy. I spoke very "strange" English in the context of native speakers of English. I went to the Office of Disability Services and asked to arrange for a letter requesting professors be tolerant of my difficulty in oral communication due to Autism and second-language mastery. Sometimes I felt isolated during the class, because I could not understand discussions. So, I set up a goal: Speak up at least once per class. Then, I realized that professors and my classmates valued my participation. Unexpectedly, some people in Syracuse told me, "You have good presentation skills!"

I was surprised, because typically Autistic people are "not good at communication and presentation," and I believed this stereotype about myself.

I became involved in the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee (BCCC), a student advocacy organization for people with disabilities on campus. I learned a lot about advocacy practice and how much people can help each other in a community. One day, one BCCC member warmly said, "You are awesome!" Many people say Autistic people cannot make friends. Now, I am disproving these stereotypical rumors about Autism.

Still, I was nervous about one other issue: Funding. I could not get a scholarship from Syracuse University for my CAS program in my first year. I needed to use my personal savings and beg my family to support me financially. It was a painful process for me. For my second year, I applied for a scholarship program from the university's School of Education. The selection process took four months and I experienced a burden of waiting again. Finally, one day in the summer, I received a letter offering a tuition scholarship!

On many levels I have learned to be patient, to not hesitate to ask help from others, and to accept any joy and grief made by people around me. In the future, I hope for further study on a doctoral level to pursue a job in policy analysis or higher education teaching. I want to use my academics for establishing better policies for persons with disabilities in Japan.

The United States still has a lot of problems regarding services and accommodations for persons with disabilities; however, I am also aware that Americans have storing power to negotiate situations. Many people in Japan say, "It is hopeless. The only thing we should do is leave the situation as is." I would like to bring the American people's strong enthusiasm and strategies for changing situations to Japan. In more ways than one, I have learned through my experiences that patience and effort pay off.

"Beyond Stereotyping" by Yasushi Miyazaki was originally submitted by Mobility International USA for publication in Global Study Magazine. Dr. Miyazaki is now Post-Doctoral Fellow at Kwansei Gakuin University in Kagawa, Japan. He also chaired a session on disability discourse in Asia at AAS-in-Asia Conference 2017 held at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea.