Here's a broad and vague item on in the ASWB exam content outline: Symptoms of neurologic and organic disorders. Which disorders? They're not saying. Do they mean all possible organic disorders? Sounds like a medical exam topic, not one for the social work exam. The idea here is most likely to encourage social workers to get some general knowledge about disorders that aren't in the DSM. That way, social workers know when to refer a client to an MD for rule outs. So let's get some knowledge. Will it help on the licensing exam? You never know.


Neurologic and organic disorders can manifest a wide range of symptoms, depending on the specific condition. Symptoms can vary greatly, and not all individuals with a particular disorder will experience the same signs. Here are some general symptoms that may be associated with neurologic and organic disorders:

  • Cognitive Symptoms:

    • Memory loss
    • Impaired concentration and attention
    • Difficulty in problem-solving
    • Confusion
    • Changes in reasoning and judgment
  • Motor Symptoms:

    • Tremors or shaking
    • Muscle weakness
    • Lack of coordination
    • Abnormalities in posture or gait
    • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Sensory Symptoms:

    • Numbness or tingling
    • Altered sensations (e.g., hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity)
    • Loss of sensation
    • Changes in vision or hearing
  • Speech and Language Symptoms:

    • Slurred speech
    • Difficulty articulating words
    • Problems with language comprehension
    • Aphasia (language impairment)
  • Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms:

    • Mood swings
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Agitation
    • Changes in personality
  • Seizures:

    • Uncontrolled shaking or convulsions
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Staring spells
    • Involuntary movements
  • Autonomic Dysfunction:

    • Changes in blood pressure
    • Abnormal heart rate
    • Sweating abnormalities
    • Digestive issues
  • Sleep Disturbances:

    • Insomnia
    • Hypersomnia (excessive sleep)
    • Sleepwalking or other parasomnias
  • Pain:

    • Headaches
    • Neuropathic pain
    • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Visual Disturbances:

    • Blurred vision
    • Double vision
    • Visual field deficits

These symptoms can overlap, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Most neurologic and organic disorders have specific diagnostic criteria and require a thorough medical evaluation for accurate diagnosis (well out of social workers' scope of practice!).


What disorders are we talking about here? The list is long. Some categories and diseases. You do not need to have this memorized or even understood. Give it a quick glance--maybe the info will lodge itself somewhere in your mind and end up being helpfu.

  • Neurodegenerative Disorders:

    • Alzheimer's disease
    • Parkinson's disease
    • Huntington's disease
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
    • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders:

    • Stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic)
    • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Epileptic Disorders:

    • Epilepsy
  • Neuromuscular Disorders:

    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Myasthenia gravis
    • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Movement Disorders:

    • Essential tremor
    • Restless legs syndrome
    • Dystonia
  • Neurogenetic Disorders:

    • Neurofibromatosis
    • Rett syndrome
    • Fragile X syndrome
  • Neuropsychiatric Disorders:

    • Schizophrenia
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Major depressive disorder
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI):

    • Concussion
    • Moderate to severe TBI
  • Infectious Neurological Disorders:

    • Meningitis
    • Encephalitis
    • Neurosyphilis
  • Autoimmune Disorders:

    • Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Autoimmune encephalitis
  • Metabolic Disorders:

    • Wilson's disease
    • Tay-Sachs disease
    • Phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • Peripheral Neuropathies:

    • Diabetic neuropathy
    • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Neuro-Oncological Disorders:

    • Brain tumors (gliomas, meningiomas, etc.)
  • Degenerative Spine Disorders:

    • Spinal stenosis
    • Degenerative disc disease
  • Neurological Manifestations of Systemic Diseases:

    • Lupus cerebritis
    • Neurological complications of diabetes
  • Sleep Disorders:

    • Insomnia
    • Sleep apnea
    • Narcolepsy

On the Exam

Exam questions for this topic are likely to come in one basic form: A client presents with something that may be medical...what should the social worker do? The answer (just about always)? Refer, refer, refer--get a medical assessment to rule out an underlying medical condition. Like this:

  • A client who has been expressing increasing symptoms of severe depression. During the assessment, the client reveals experiencing persistent fatigue, changes in appetite, and thoughts of self-harm. The client has a history of depression but has never sought medical evaluation for the symptoms.
  • A social worker is working with a client who presents with symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. During the assessment, the client mentions experiencing rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and chest pain during anxious episodes. The client has no known medical history related to these symptoms.

  • A social worker is working with a client who is a middle-aged adult. The client reports experiencing persistent headaches, visual disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. The client has a history of migraines but mentions that these symptoms are different and more concerning. The client has not sought medical attention for these new symptoms.

First one? Refer for medical evaluation. Second one? Same. Third one? Refer some more. You have to rule out medical factors before working on psychological ones.

Questions on the social work exam may be closer calls...but probably not. The ASWB wants to make sure social workers don't mistake themselves for medical professionals. Social workers do social work; medical professionals do medicine. Will that be on the exam? Yes.

For questions on this topic and lots of others, sign up for Social Work Test Prep's full-length exams. There's no better way to get prepared.

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December 1, 2023
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