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neurobiology
 1


School
of
Social
Work

University
of
Minnesota,
Twin
Cities

SW
5810
Child
Development:
Resilience
&
Risk

Jane
F.
Gilgun,
Ph.D.,
LICSW

September
23,
2009


Neurobiology
&
Social
Work:
A
Primer


Notes
Toward
What
I
Want
Students
to
Know
about
Neurobiology


The
following
are
ideas
from
neuroscience
that
I
expect
students
to
know
and
to
be

able
to
apply
to
cases
by
the
end
of
the
course.
Do
not
panic
if
you
are
unsure
about

any
of
these
ideas
or
if
we
have
not
yet
discussed
them.
We
will
work
with
them
over

the
course
of
the
semester.
This
is
a
work
in
progress,
and
I
may
add
to
or
edit
these

notes.



• Plasticity
of
the
brain

o New
connections
form
throughout
life
(among
dendrites)

o Human
beings
may
also
develop
new
neurons
in
some
parts
of
the

brain

o Notion
of
repair—in
the
broad
sense
that
new
neural
connections
can

form
that
can
perform
functions
that
damaged
portions
of
the
brain

cannot
(not
an
absolute,
but
can
happen)

o Human
beings
are
born
with
billions
of
neurons;
which
connections

form
and
which
neurons
remain
depends
upon
brain
x
environment
x

working
models
(interpretations)
interactions

• Ceiling
effects;
because
of
neurobiological
makeup
of
brain,
there
may
be

points
beyond
which
individual
brains
cannot
develop
such
as
in
FAE,
ASD,

and
athleticism

• The
interactive,
systemic
nature
of
genetics
x
experience
x
inner
working

models


• Interpretations
arise
from
inner
working
models/schemas
that
are

embedded
in
brain
circuits
and
that
result
from
brain
x
environment

interactions

• 
Behaviors
formerly
thought
to
be
related
only
to
effects
of
environmental

factors
now
thought
to
result
from
neurobiology
alone,
or
neurobiology
in

combination
with
environmental
influences
and
individual
interpretations

o Example:
mental
illnesses

 Some
are
expressed
no
matter
what
kind
of
environment
and

interpretations;


 Some
persons
with
m.i.
may
have
access
to
many
resources

and
may
actively
use
these
resources,
but
neurobiological

processes
overwhelm
these
positive
factors
and
processes

 Others
are
expressed
in
traumatizing/abusive/neglectful

environments
in
the
absence
of
protective
factors—e.g.,

positives
that
individuals
actually
use

neurobiology
 2


• Common
neurological
issues
of
children
in
social
work
caseloads
arise
from

biological
x
environmental
interactions
during
pregnancy;
some
possible

common
childhood
conditions
that
sometimes
may
be
of
this
nature
are

FASD,
some
aspects
of
ADHD,
some
forms
of
ASD,
some
forms
of
attachment

issues,
some
forms
of
bipolar
disorder,
high
reactivity
that
under
some

environmental
conditions
that
can
result
in
aggressive,
destructive
behaviors

• Some
neurological
issues
may
be
solely
or
primarily
neurological,
such
as

some
forms
of
ADHD,
autism,
bipolar
disorder,
aggressive
behaviors

• Indicators
of
infant
neurological
health

o capacities
to
mirror
facial
expressions
of
adults

o tracks
with
eyes
the
movements/facial
expressions
of
adults
who
are

physically
close
to
them

o is
easily
soothed


o ‘folds
into”
the
arms
of
adults
who
hold
them
gently

 parents
with
infants
who
show
signs
of
possible
neurological

difficulties
require
psychoeducation
and
emotional
support

• many
neurological
issues
can
be
managed
effectively,

but
some
require
very
intensive
services


General
Principles
of
Intervention


o When
working
with
children
and
families,
follow
principles
of

children’s
mental
health
approaches


 Parents
must
feel
understood

 Develop
working
alliance
between
parents
and
social
workers

 Help
parents
find
resources
to
deal
with
their
own
issues
to
so

that
they
can
become
psychologically
available
to
children

 Observe
parents
interacting
with
their
children

• Ask
parents
to
imagine
what
their
children
might
be

experiencing
as
they
interact
with
parents

 Help
parents
find
resources
to
meet
basic
human
needs
of

food,
clothing,
shelter,
and
medical
care
when
this
is
needed

 Help
parents
sent
up
a
structured
family
system,
where
there

is
high
warmth
and
affection,
authoritative
parenting
that

includes
clear
rules
about
what
parents
expect
and
what
are

acceptable
behaviors
and
what
are
not,

clear
explanations
of

rules
and
expectations,
brief
praise
when
children
do

something
parents
want
them
to
do,
and
humane,
brief

consequences
when
they
do
not;
teach
them
not
to
punish

children
by
taking
away
something
they
are
good
at,
especially

permanently

o Parents/foster
parents/other
care
providers
require

 A
great
deal
of
emotional
support

 A
great
deal
of
psychoeducation

• Parent
support
groups

• Early
childhood
family
education

neurobiology
 3


• Internet
resources

• Brief
discussions
with
social
workers
when
parents
are

open
to
this

o Brief
inquiry
about
what
behaviors
might
mean

to
children

o Keep
in
mind
that
interventions
for
children
must
be
gauged
for

developmental
age
and
not
chronological
age:
See
Bruce
Perry’s
Work

on
sequential
interventions

o Interventions
for
children
and
for
families
should
include
tasks
that

challenge
them
enough
to
“stretch”
but
not
overwhelm
their

capacities


o Issues
related
to
trauma
are
in
reciprocal
relationships
with
brain

functioning
and
development;


o Social
workers
have
the
task
of
helping
children
and
their
parents

deal
with
trauma
constructively

 Requires
mutual
trust

 Clients
feel
safe

 Clients
deal
directly
with
effects
of
trauma
and
immediately

are
guided
into
effective
ways
of
coping
with
trauma

• DBT

• EMDR

• Mediation
and
other
thought/emotion
re‐focusing

procedures

o Effective
interventions
require
therapy,
psychoeducation,
and

emotional
support
and
often
medication
as
well
in
addition
to

authoritative
parenting
as
outlined
earlier