The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Joanne Miyahara Brings Parent’s Perspective Into Classroom

Most students are oblivious to their teachers’ lives outside of school, but AVID and English teacher Joanne Miyahara has brought her personal experiences with raising an adopted daughter and autistic son into the classroom.

Eight-year-old Ryan was born with autism, a brain development disorder that affects social interaction and communication and causes repetitive or restricted behavior. For Miyahara and her husband, social studies teacher Derek Miyahara, one of their challenges was deciding what treatments to try and how to deal with the effects.

“There’s still so much research going on and so many things that are unknown about the best way to help somebody cope with autism,” Miyahara said. “If you imagine your most stressed day ever, that’s what their entire life is like. … His experience of the world is just so different from what most of us experience.”

Ryan was diagnosed with autism at the age of three after spending three to four months with a speech therapist. His autism made it difficult to communicate with others.

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Just making eye contact with Ryan is cause for celebration in the Miyahara family. What other parents take for granted, Miyahara and her husband cherish dearly.

“When we go on vacation, anything that takes him out of his typical routine is a challenge,” Miyahara said. “One year we had a family reunion on the Disney cruise, and that was just too overwhelming so he spent 95 percent of his time in the state room.”

Still, Miyahara is extremely grateful for her affectionate son and has helped Ryan find other ways of expressing himself, such as through cooking and music.

Miyahara’s daughter, Lauren, has helped draw Ryan out of his shell by including him in games and being patient with him.

Though she is only six years old, Lauren has an “off the extrovert scale” personality and a mature understanding.

However, Miyahara can sense that it is still difficult for her daughter when she and her brother must be treated differently or when they have to leave social occasions early.

According to Miyahara, it is difficult to treat Ryan and Lauren in the same way since they are such unique people with very different needs.

Miyahara does not want Lauren to believe that the reason for this is because she is adopted.

“We’re trying to frame as much as possible that [being adopted] makes her special,” Miyahara said.

While Miyahara and her husband are both Japanese, Lauren is Korean.

“My husband and I are… third, fourth generation Japanese,” Miyahara said. “Not like we have a Japanese household per se, but we still wanted to have some connection with the culture.”

Lauren’s Korean cultural godmother and former teacher at the school, Grace Kim, along with other Korean members of Miyahara’s church, teach Lauren about Korean culture and way of life.

Her first birthday party was a Korean-style dinner with traditional food and utensils, and she owns a hanbok (traditional Korean dress).

A shared passion for music brings her and her kids closer together in a family band. The three often “jam at home,” with Ryan on drums and Lauren on the microphone.

Miyahara says her children have changed her life, altering her perspective on what the world has to offer, emphasizing the “necessity of living a life of gratitude” and teaching her to “appreciate smaller joys.”

In return, Miyahara helps her son cope with his special needs and also knows that, at some point, her daughter may want to know more about her adoption.

Miyahara feels that her experiences at home play a significant role in what she brings into the classroom.

“It has helped me understand as a teacher how people have all different kinds of challenges and how do we really best try to accommodate those,” Miyahara said. “I think I’m much more sensitive to students who struggle in different areas.”

After years of teaching, Miyahara still finds the experience rewarding.

“I totally love what I’m doing,” Miyahara said. “I just love being able to work with students and learn from them. It’s something I feel very blessed about.”

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