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.

Book Review of Ann Farris’ The Other Side of Dyslexia.

Recently Kathy Johnson author, speaker and educational consultant, (,)  wrote this book review of my book, The Other Side of Dyslexia.  I feel her comments caught the spirit of this book. The review follows:


Ann was a director of the opera-musical theater program at the National Endowment for the Arts when she discovered she had Dyslexia. She writes in this book about her journey of self-discovery to being able to read.

When I first opened the book, I was delighted by what I saw inside – unlike any other book, each page has colorful simple pictures with the words below. It conveys what she has in her mind: pictures and emotions; less words. My immediate thought was how authentic it is. To get into the mind of a person with learning disabilities, you must go beyond just words, as words have different meanings and understandings.  Although in the main part of the book, Ann does not specifically describe the trainings and therapies that she has used to help her, she references them in the end. Anyone who would like to follow a similar path can.

The journey included many therapies that I have used as well, including Brain Gym, Energy Medicine, eye exercises and watching diet. Yet for her, the emotional and spiritual journey helped unlock the physical stress that held her back.  Today she is able to use words much better for both her reading and writing.

This book was written primarily for dyslexics so that they can read about someone like them. She gives hints as to how to read it, and the print is big so that people can have an easier time with the words. It is also for the non-dyslexic to understand what can happen in the mind and body of another human. We are after all, unique. One thing I have learned is that we don’t know how other people see, hear or feel unless they tell us. Ann does an excellent job of that!

I highly recommend this book to people who have learning disabilities as well as those who teach, care for, and love people with LD. Enjoy!

Written by Kathy Johnson, []

Masgutova Method FAQs for Children With Challenges group

Children with Challenges is a Yahoo group of parents, therapists and persons challenge with disabilities such as dyslexia, hyperlexia, aspergers, autism and many others. See  The group was initiated by a mother in a support group who was learning the Masgutova Method.

Recently this mother took the initiative to begin a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) relating to the solutions that Svetlana Masgutova has unearthed for different disabilities. I provided some ideas for the FAQ on dyslexia and hyperlexia and then Svetlana added details. The results are below. I highly recommend that you visit the Yahoo site for responses on other topics.

1.  How does that Masgutova Method help children and adults with dyslexia (challenges with sounding out words, reading and vocabulary) and hyperlexia (challenges with comprehending – both reading and aural)?

The Masgutova Method (MM) addresses core issues behind both challenges. If a child or an adult’s reflexes normally developed in utero and during the first three years of life are delayed the technical skills required to read and comprehend can be impacted.

Non-developed or retained reflex patterns cannot serve as a neurophysiological basis for learning skills development, and more over, non-integrated reflex patterns inhibit the learning process.  The negative effects of automatism, incorrect reflex pattern functioning (its dysfunctional sensory system, brain processing, and motor response), and lack of development of inner control will not allow a child/adult to deal easily with hands on tasks: to focus, to analyze, to decode information, and to process it appropriately.  Integration of these non-developed reflex patterns gives the possibility for the development of inner control and skills.

2.  Can reflex corrections be made to improve a dyslexic and hyperlexic’s ability to read and comprehend?

Yes, there have been many hundreds of examples where a marked increased in reading and comprehension has been reached.

3.  Do the emotions play a part in dyslexia and hyperlexia?

Yes.  We have seen cases where linking an emotional issue with an under-developed reflex and making the appropriate corrections have resulted in a marked increase in reading skills and comprehension.

To learn more about the Masgutova Method go to:

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.