OIST researcher from Okinawa wins MEXT Minister Award in Science and Technology

Award acknowledges major efforts in advancing ADHD support programs for Japanese parents

Shizuka Shimabukuro

On Tuesday, April 9, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced the FY2024 recipients of the Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. This award is given to researchers who have made significant contributions in science and technology. Dr. Shizuka Shimabukuro, who has been conducting research at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), received the Award for Science and Technology (Science and Technology Promotion Category). Her contributions to the development of a support program for parents with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were highly praised. The award ceremony will be held on April 17 at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Tokyo.

Dr. Shimabukuro, a native of Naha City, Okinawa, graduated from Okinawa Christian Junior College and went on to study at an American university with a government scholarship, earning a doctorate in family therapy. She then returned to Japan and has been conducting research at the Human Developmental Neurobiology Unit of OIST since 2010. “In Japan, including Okinawa, there are limitations to therapy based on psychosocial support. From the time I arrived at OIST, I strongly felt the need for support for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their parents, and their families,” she explained. ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects an estimated 5-7% of school-aged children. One type of ADHD support is parent training, in which parents learn how to raise their children with behavioral therapy. However, there is a lack of ADHD-specific parent training programs and personnel to provide such programs in Japan.

A series of studies began with the design of an ADHD-specific parents training program and its pilot test with a small number of participants. After confirming the effectiveness of the parents training program in a pre-post study, Dr. Shimabukuro demonstrated its effectiveness on participants (mothers) in two randomized controlled trials. She has also actively partnered with government agencies to promote the program and has contributed to the development of human resources and implementation processes necessary for its social implementation. Currently, while training personnel to promote the spread of parents training programs, she is conducting research in collaboration with the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education to implement support using pair training and video materials for teachers in public elementary schools.

In accepting the award, Dr. Shimabukuro commented, “I am very happy that my research has been recognized as a significant contribution to solving social issues, which encourages me to continue my work. Moving forward, I would like to further focus on implementation research to create a social environment where children with ADHD and their families can easily receive support at an early stage. I aim to help foster a community where individuals understand each other’s unique qualities and actively support one another. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Professor Gail Tripp, the members of my research unit, and all those who have supported my research to this point. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) and the OIST Innovation team for their financial support.”

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