Thursday, May 3, 2012
Food Allergies, Asthma and the Pursuit of Happiness
Like so many of you who are confronting nut allergies and asthma for the first time, I was simply overwhelmed at first with the task of keeping my daughter safe and knowing what foods to feed her. Not fully understanding or having experience with allergies and asthma, I wondered how we would be able to allow her to participate in activities we had always assumed were part of childhood--camps, birthday parties, school, play dates -- and eventually, extracurricular activities and sports.
We took each situation as it came, and step by step began to discover the parameters of what we would do. Each successful completion of an activity led to more confidence. Sometimes asthma intruded; it was worse when my daughter was younger and just developing seasonal allergies. Going outside among grass seed was enough to labor her breathing and require treatment. Coupled with food allergies it was rough going for a couple of years. Bottom line: extracurricular activities like the ones she does now were always something we wanted to do, but we wondered if certain things would even be possible.
So now here we are: my daughter is 12 years old and developing a wonderful singing voice (breath control required) and we are fortunate that asthma symptoms have abated quite a bit. (We don't know why, we're just grateful that they have.) My husband and I now drop our child off and go watch her as audience members, rather than volunteering backstage for each show (as we used to do when she was much younger and in dance recitals, for example). I enjoy every minute of this "freedom" because it wasn't always possible.
For those of you confronting allergies (and/or asthma) with younger kids it may all seem impossible to ever be able to let go and allow your child to participate in regular activities because, as we know, allergens are everywhere. Of course, you always have to be careful about foods and allergens, especially with regard to precautions. That never goes away.
But from one parent to another, I encourage you to do the things your child wants to do to the best of their ability. Every family has their comfort zones, but don't let the allergy keep your child from the activities they enjoy. It is so rewarding to see them grow and learn to manage things on their own as they get older and more independent. If you can find a way to work out the safety details (and that takes effort from you and cooperation from others, I know), your kids will gain the confidence they will need to help themselves stay safe and healthy later in life.
To see the young adult perspective first hand, check out this great video from the Food Allergy Initiative. Teens talking about their food allergies--it's great for parents to get this perspective.