Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Welcome to The New Age: What We Should Expect From Schools and Managing Food Allergies in the Classroom

I've been dealing with food allergies at school since 2004 and while I do think there is much more awareness about allergies these days, it still seems as a lot of us are having problems managing allergies at school.

Some parents tell me that they are not being listened to or respected with regards to life-threatening food allergies, even though they have followed the school's rules, i.e., filled out the paperwork, visited the allergist, met with the school staff and the myriad other tasks that go along with managing food allergies in daily life.

Just to be clear:  when I say "respected" I simply mean acknowledging that the allergy is real and that certain reasonable, necessary accommodations may be required. The unfortunate facts are that food allergies can be life-threatening and some classroom practices might require a little adaptation. What is troubling is that some parents are being called upon to frequently justify their child's allergies despite the fact that they've provided medical documentation, doctor's notes, etc.

If you're a parent feeling drained or frustrated by allergy management at school, don't feel alone because it takes effort to make things go smoothly -- sometimes a lot of effort.  Lately, I've been wondering: does it have quite so intensely difficult, with parents needing to be "pioneers" each year? After all, food allergies are not a brand-new problem.

I don't have all the answers but I, along with my daughter, have been managing allergies at school for more than 10 years. We've always tried to work with the school and usually we have been successful -- though not without struggle at times. With the era of food allergy awareness definitely upon us, I think we can have the following reasonable expectations. To me, these are the basics:

1. To be taken seriously if you have provided the appropriate medical documentation for the allergy.

2. To be treated with respect by school staff if you have concerns about your allergic student. If the person you're dealing with doesn't have the answers, they should be ready and willing to send you to the person who does.

3. To be prepared as parents to offer reminders or to engage in follow-up discussions, but not forced to re-invent the wheel and start at point A each time there is a new class party or field trip on the horizon. Having to re-open our child's health issues each time an event comes up is not only frustrating, it's dangerous as all of the major questions and concerns should have been settled at the beginning of the school year (of course you may always have to tweak things and make adjustments but a basic plan should be in place that doesn't deviate.)

4. To be ready to offer our assistance in educating others about allergies, with the understanding that many of us are new at this and are still educating ourselves. At this point in our collective experience, we should expect schools to be providing all staff with some food allergy education beyond just the basic epinephrine usage training that many of them receive -- a great thing, but only one part of the puzzle. Some basic discussion on cross-contact and allergen avoidance is equally important.

5. To prepare our child as best as we can according to their age and level of development with the knowledge that if something goes wrong despite our best efforts and our child's best efforts, (accidents happen, mistakes can be made) that the school knows what to do in an emergency and will actually do it.

While I am a huge advocate of parental support and teaching kids self-advocacy, the fact is that when kids cross the threshold to school, the school has a responsibility to them, just as it does to all students. It isn't just one or two students with allergies any more and sadly, the numbers continue to grow. In addition, schools are accommodating many types of special needs and food allergies are under that umbrella, so don't let anyone tell you that "no one" has any of the same issues as you. Unfortunately, they probably do.

You might also like these posts from The Nut-Free Mom blog:

Planning for the School Year with Food Allergies

Working Around Food Allergies at Class Parties

Teaching Kids to Manage their Nut Allergies

For a crash course in managing your child's life-threatening nut allergies (including communication tips and lots of emotional support), click this link.

Note: I'm a parent just like you sharing my experiences. If you have any medical or legal questions, please consult the appropriate medical or legal resources. Thank you!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nut Allergy Spring Roundup: Nut-Free Recipes, Spring Break Travel Tips and and More

Daylight savings time has officially begun, so for those of us huddled in our parkas in many parts of the country, (except for today -- it's warm(er) and sunny!), that means spring is on the horizon.

I've been hearing from many new readers lately who may have not seen some of the spring-related content, so I wanted to offer a post featuring some of my reader-favorite "spring" topics. For my longtime readers, I hope you don't mind a refresher course with some timely reminders.

Spring Break Travel
For those of you flying to your destination, check out this post. In particular, I talk about our experiences traveling by airplane, a stressful endeavor but not an impossible one. Lots of tips and resources in this post. If you have any questions about you or your child's ability to fly on a plane, it's a good idea to speak to your allergist.

St.  Patrick's Day
Looking for tasty, St. Paddy's Day-themed treats or crafts to do at home or at school? I hope you'll visit my St. Patrick's Day Pinterest board where I've admittedly gone a little overboard collecting "green" ideas for this fun holiday. You'll also find my two favorite Irish Soda Bread recipes -- easy and delicious and nice to have on hand since regular bakeries are off-limits to the nut-allergic. A word to the wise regarding anything I post on Pinterest: I do my best to screen out anything "nutty" but sometimes recipes do contain nuts. I am obviously not advocating that you use those recipes unless you are able to make a "safe" substitution. :) I often suggest substitutions in the "notes" potion of the Pin.

Spring Recipes Book
Last year, Surf Sweets collaborated with me on a spring sweet treats recipe book -- this little e-book is available for free online and has recipes that can be adapted not just to nut-free, but also to gluten-free and dairy-free. Check it out by clicking this link. Surf Sweets has organic, top 10 allergen-free jelly beans for spring -- click the image to the right side bar of this post to find out more.

Is It Allergies or a Cold?
Many people with food allergies also have seasonal allergies but often you can't tell the difference at this sniffly time of year. Find the post by clicking here. Remember - if you have any medical concerns about symptoms, call your doctor and/or allergist.

A Crash Course on Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child
My e-book, The New Nut-Free Mom, is available on Kindle, Nook and to download to your iPad or computer. Click this link to find out how to get it.