"Periodic Unschoolers' Panic Disorder" (PUPD) is a syndrome which is receiving increasing attention in unschooling circles. Apparent prevalence is on the rise. Some might claim an epidemic has taken hold; more moderate voices claim that the disorder has always been endemic in the unschooling population, but recent media attention and publication of the cluster of symptoms has led to many new diagnoses.
Classic symptoms are difficult to miss. Otherwise sensible unschooling parents start pressuring their creative, autonomous, self-motivated, hands-on learners into producing tidy completed worksheets, or sitting through chapters of world history read aloud. They reach for their credit cards and begin spending money on structured curriculum they'll discard after a miserable week and a half.
The disorder is, by its very definition, episodic. The first episode typically occurs sometime during the child's kindergarten year, although in retrospect sufferers often identify harbinger symptoms such as overzealously directing their preschool children to magnetic letters, worrying over a 3-year-old's excess fondness for matchbox cars and mud, or being concerned about a 4-and-a-half-year-old's continuing tendency to confuse the letters Y and W.
Despite parents' beliefs that they have deschooled themselves, PUPD episodes tend to occur coincident with the public school calendar. Fifty-one per cent of episodes occur during the school year-end months of May through early July when public school parents are feeling confident and proud of their children's tangible progress from one grade year to another. Another 36% of episodes occur between late November and early March, while public school families are receiving report cards, attending holiday concerts and taping weekly spelling lists earnestly to their fridges.
Mean frequency of episodes during the child's elementary years is 9.2 months. The frequency and duration of episodes peaks when children are 7 and 8 and then tends to diminish into the pre-teen and teen years. Protective factors include (i) early age of independent reading (ii) spontaneous interest in math workbooks and (iii) unschooling-supportive grandparents.
Research into treatment for PUPD is in its infancy. Current promising research is pointing a the beneficial role for parental journaling, improvements in parental anxiety with daily family recreation, especially that which takes place outdoors, and on the self-reported benefits of internet support-groups for afflicted parents. One recent study (Hughes, 2005) confirmed that beating one's head against a brick wall is an ineffective strategy by all criteria.