Social Maladjustment Disorder vs. Emotional Behavioral Disorder in Students With ADHD

Social Maladjustment Disorder vs. Emotional Behavioral Disorder in Students With ADHD
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Social Maladjustment Disorder (SMD)

Students with ADHD can exhibit a number of externalizing behaviors that can disrupt a classroom, marginalize their learning outcome

and create disciplinary actions needing immediate Administrative interventions. However, there are behaviors that characterize Social Maladjustment Disorder (SMD) that should be considered when students with ADHD have crossed over the line of typical classroom behaviors.

  • Student meets the diagnosis for ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) in the DSM Diagnostic Manual.
  • Student’s behavior is intentionally antisocial and willful in delinquent behavior with low fear and even lower inhibition.
  • Classroom management rules and expectations don’t apply to students with ADHD who exhibit SMD behaviors.
  • Students can be retaliatory and goal oriented in getting revenge or getting something.
  • Students will use negative behavior to maintain peer status and deviant status.
  • Students appear to be insensitive to the needs of others and have no internalized regret for negative actions towards others.
  • Students are manipulative and lack remorse and can appear to be street-smart in behavioral intent.
  • Students may exhibit the double-dare approach in gravitating towards dangerous students and actions that may cause emotional distress for those who are the targets of the OD behavior. (See Resource below).

Emotional Behavioral Disorder (EBD)

For students with ADHD who are being educated in self-contained classrooms with level 4 placements for EBD (Emotional Behavioral Disorder) exhibit the following characteristics that differ substantially from SMD (Social Maladjustment Disorder).

  • Students can exhibit low self-esteem issues and feelings of rejection that may be outline in their IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).
  • Students can display uncontrolled angry and erratic reactive outbursts in the classroom.
  • Students can engage in negative social interactions with peers which may require classes for social and behavioral skills.
  • Students can have academic and behavioral deficiencies that may prevent typical mainstreaming in regular education classrooms, hence the self-contained classroom status.
  • Students may appear depressed and fearful due to deficiencies and diagnosed developmental impairments.
  • Students have a sense of remorse and regret after an antisocial episode. (See Resource below)

Now You Can Differentiate

Whether a student with ADHD is SMD vs EBD is a diagnostic that must be made to differentiate how teachers can implement effective strategies to address students who are acting out due to impulse vs. those acting out due to negative intention. Whichever the case, it is important that both teachers and students understand the characteristics identifying both disorders in order to create instruction, lesson designs, social contracts and behavioral contracts that can help students better acclimate in and outside the classroom.


Boreson, Lynn. Evaluation Guide, Emotional Behavioral Disorders. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.