By Principal Deb Donovan —
Once upon a time there was a Kindergarten teacher in Japan who met a boy who was different. This boy did not have a rhythm of life. He was up running around at night when he should have been sleeping. He did not eat a well balanced diet of healthy foods. He often refused to try foods that were hot or cold, crunchy or chewy. He could not speak and understand language the way his peers did. In fact, he did not seem to notice the other children in his classroom. He could not pay attention to the lessons and was not interested in playing with toys. His parents reported that he did not seem to show love the way their other children did. They felt exhausted in trying to help him and frustrated that he was not improving. Yet, they believed deep inside that their son could learn and grow if only they could unlock the pieces and put the puzzle together.
This boy was lucky enough to meet Dr. Kiyo Kitahara, a truly remarkable woman with vision, energy, passion and belief in the human spirit. Dr. Kitahara was fascinated by this boy and made it her life’s mission to discover the channels of learning for this child with what is now known as autism and for so many others who would follow. From that first encounter she embarked on an amazing journey that led to the development of the Musashino Higahsi School in1966; a school whose mission was to educate typical children and children with autism using the model we know today as Daily Life Therapy®.
Daily Life Therapy® is a unique educational philosophy that incorporates a broad and balanced curriculum including academics, art, music, physical education, computer technology and social education. There are three guiding pillars: vigorous physical exercise, emotional bonding and intellectual stimulation. These enable our students to take on challenges, learn to overcome obstacles and gain confidence from their own success. This enables our students to enjoy their family, community and all that life has to offer. As each of our students grow and learn, their personality and individual character matures allowing them to benefit from, and most importantly, contribute to society.
In the course of twenty years, The Musashino School in Tokyo would encompass kindergarten, elementary, junior high and high school divisions. As news of this methodology and success spread, Dr. Kitahara responded by establishing an International Division. This division enrolled children from the United States. This sparked the creation of the Boston Higashi School in 1987. Today, Boston Higashi School, located a in a suburban town just southwest of Boston on 55 acre campus, is celebrating its 25th year educating children and young adults with autism to learn to reach their full potential.
Currently the school has an enrollment of 130 students who come from not only Massachusetts but other states in the USA as well as other countries. The school offers both day and residential services and is accredited by the National Commission of Accreditation for Special Education Services to provide services to students on the autism spectrum from the ages of 3 to 22. Our children thrive in a caring environment that honors strong partnerships with parents, school districts, collateral agencies and higher education. Older students are engaged in employment education opportunities both on and off campus. We also boast of our famous Jazz Band that is comprised of approximately 20 students. Our band has played at famous venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Hokkaido Jazz Festival. Each year, the school hosts an Annual Celebration where the talents of every student are showcased on a large stage to an appreciative audience of over a thousand members from all walks of life. Autism doesn’t limit us because we embrace personal and collective excellence for one and all with enthusiasm while empowering others with an unwavering belief in the power of the human spirit. As we travel on this journey of autism together, we have set the compass of our hearts and minds to the highest intentions and are humbled and inspired by the path our students have opened to us.