Barbara Kalmanson: Upstream disturbances and downstream behavior

Listen to audio version of post:  hit Barbara Kalmanson

Recently Barbara Kalmanson was a speaker at Parents Education Network in San Francisco.  Barbara is a clinical psychologist and special educator who has worked with infants, children and their families for over 30 years. She is also a founder of the Oak Hill School, a developmental, relationship-based school for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum and related neurodevelopmental disorders.

Her two-hour lecture on the topic “Why does he do that?” – Identifying and empathizing with the social-emotional side of learning differences  – was so full of information, it was almost overwhelming.  I am reporting on a just a few of the highlights.

Ms. Kalmanson used a metaphor: down stream and up stream. By this she means some upstream activities are throwing children downstream into the river because they can’t find a solution upstream.   The challenge for parents, teachers and psychologists is to see what is causing the child to go downstream.  For example:

  • Children who seem cautions and fearful may have low tone in their muscles, or have visual and spatial issues which make them moody and anxious.
  • Some children have issues of sequencing and memory, perhaps from an insurmountable set of activities, or disorder in their environment.
  • Some children don’t seem to have flexibility.  They can think of Plan A but if that’s not possible don’t know how to develop Plan B.
  • Some kids are controlling and demanding:  could be an auditory process issues. He or she can’t figure out the sounds coming at them.
  • Some kids try to control the topic. They could be doing it because the discussion is going beyond what they can understand.

The challenge for parents, teachers and therapists is to put themselves into the shoes of their child or student to know what the child or student is feeling inside themselves.  The goal is to discover  the cause of the disturbance. Its affect predicts the future.  In other words, the upstream experience predicts the downstream behavior.

Ms. Kalmanson commented that temperament is the “how” of behavior and described nine dimensions:

  1. Activity:  how physical motion is going on
  2. Rhythmic:  regularity of movement and psychological functions.   If a child needs and doesn’t have a predictable routine there’s an emotional sequel to that.
  3. Approach/withdrawal:  reaction of a child to new stimulus e.g.: are they happy when they first go to school?
  4. Ease in modifying reactions.
  5. Intensity energy level of responses.
  6. Mood:  how much does the child feel life is pleasant?
  7. Persistence/attention space.
  8. Distractibility:  effect of extraneous stimuli to ongoing behavior.   Do they notice when a fire truck goes by?
  9. Sensory threshold:  how much stimulation does it take to get a response?

In tandem with these dimensions are Risk Factors that are associated with school performance.

  1. Low task orientation
  2. Low flexibility:  negative approach and social difficulty
  3. High reactivity which could mean low sensory input.

Principles of assessment look at upstream issues:  Usually it’s advisable to look for a specific symptom, e.g. poor eye contact.  That symptom provides information that it is a functional limitation.  Then, look at the larger functional capacity.  Is there an intimacy connection?  Is the child thinking: how does someone know what I am feeling?  Most important, can the teacher,  parent or therapist empathize with the child/student?

The above highlights some areas Ms. Kalmanson encouraged parents, teachers and therapists to observe in their child or student.  The more the child’s behavior is understood the less opportunity for upstream disturbances and downstream behavior.

Holding strong in an emotional situation

Welcome:  You have come upon a blog discussing tools to help dyslexics and hyperlexics. I have both conditions.  The topic, this time, is holding strong in an emotional situation.

I have noticed that dyslexics and hyperlexics, myself included,  can be highly charged when confronted with an emotional situation that seems unfair, uncalled for, or doesn’t reflect the facts as seen by the dyslexic/hyperlexic. 

I am always searching for tools to help me master this challenge more effectively.  Recently I read a blog which, I feel, provides a good approach. The author, Pam Stuckey, Body/Sense Blog. has given me reprint permission.

Emotional Attacks

Hurtful confrontations often leave us feeling drained and confused. When someone attacks us emotionally, we may wonder what we did to rouse their anger, and we take their actions personally. We may ask ourselves what we could have done to compel them to behave or speak that way toward us.

It’s important to remember that there are no real targets in an emotional attack and that it is usually a way for the attacker to redirect their uncomfortable feelings away from themselves. When people are overcome by strong emotions, like hurt or anguish, they may see themselves as victims and lash out at others as a means of protection or to make themselves feel better.

You may be able to shield yourself from an emotional attack by not taking the behavior personally. First, however, it is good to cultivate a state of detachment that can provide you with some protection from the person who is attacking you. This will allow you to feel compassion for this person and remember that their behavior isn’t as much about you as it is about their need to vent their emotions.

If you have difficulty remaining unaffected by someone’s behavior, take a moment to breathe deeply and remind yourself that you didn’t do anything wrong, and you aren’t responsible for people’s feelings. If you can see that this person is indirectly expressing a need to you—whether they are reaching out for help or wanting to be heard—you may be able to diffuse the attack by getting them to talk about what is really bothering them.

You cannot control other people’s emotions, but you can control your own. If you sense yourself responding to their negativity, try not to let yourself. Keep your heart open to them, and they may let go of their defensiveness and yield to your compassion and openness.

Pam Stuckey, Body/Sense Blog. 

I hope you have found this information as helpful as I have.

If you have topics that you would like me to address about my experience in overcoming dyslexia and hyperlexia feel free to send your ideas through the comments below.


Information on this blog is intended to complement, not replace, the advice of your own physician or health care professional


Emotions and their effect on dyslexics & hyperlexics

You have come upon a blog discussing tools to help dyslexics and hyperlexics.  The topic, this time, is emotion.

When I was first diagnosed as dyslexic (age 45) I was told there were no solutions to help me. The reason: I could sound out works, read words and had a good vocabulary — the usual definition of a dyslexic. Yet, the test pigeonholed me as a dyslexic.

What to do? I kept asking and two years later I was given two invaluable pieces of advice:

1.   Give up eating foods with refined sugar. The reason:  stop the inner rushing in my body. I followed the advice and a year later the rushing stopped almost entirely. This correction made me ready to move to the second piece of advice.

2.   Work with a therapist to discover within myself emotional issues that were unresolved. At first I wondered, is this really necessary? But going off refined sugar had improved my ability to be quiet within and more willing to pick up a book. So, perhaps clearing pesky emotions was worth exploring.

My therapist was brilliant.  Her intuition told her I was masking anger. It took me some time to find it, but find it I did. As I released my hold to past anger I discovered many things about reading:

  • my buried disruptive emotions stopped me from wanting to read and reading
  • when reading a book with characters who had emotional issues that resonated with me, I would not continue reading the book.  When I discovered this behavior I taught myself to stop reading. I defined  where the emotion being expressed in the book was existent in my life and then processed it.  By processing, I mean delving into the issue, seeing where I was the victim or the perpetrator and then discovering how to forgive myself and others. The change doesn’t happen quickly but eventually positive results emerge. When done, I went back to the book and continued reading until another emotion stopped me.  It took me about a year using this discipline to move out of this “stopping reading behavior” caused by buried emotions that needed attention.

What I now understand is that my feelings were hidden, or not accepted as real by me or others.  They were churning about within, an explosive energy. No longer were they simply a feeling.

My technique as a child and adult was to bury my dark feelings. Feelings left unexpressed build up. They took up space inside me. They tried to get my attention by “preventing” me from being able and/or willing to read. I didn’t realize they wanted attention.  I can see now that my emotions are my reactions to my feelings I was choosing to avoid.

Years later I was re-diagnosed as hyperlexic:  meaning I could read words fine, but comprehension was the problem. If I hadn’t done the emotional homework I know that my work of correcting the hyperlexia would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.


If you have topics that you would like me to address about my experience in overcoming dyslexia and hyperlexia feel free to send your ideas through the comments below.


Information on this blog is intended to complement, not replace, the advice of your own physician or health care professional