Planning For University With Multiple Food Allergies…Allergic Living Magazine To The Rescue

Love the front page side bar on Allergic Living Magazine’s Fall 2013 edition it reads:

“Colleges Get Allergy Aware: Free-from meals and educated chefs are the new normal”

Perfect timing…my eldest son is in his last year of high school.

Planning for university next year is forefront of my mind…especially since he has multiple food allergies (dairy, egg, beef, lamb, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, mustard and raspberry).

Seems like Allergic Living Magazine is on the ‘same ‘page’.

I can hardly believe it is time for my oldest to head off to university. At the same time, I am coming to terms with ‘wrapping my head around’  all the multiple food allergy issues that will inevitably play a part of his decision-making process.

Allergic Living Magazine’s article titled, “Learning Curve” was just what I needed to put my mind at ease…included in the article is a university ‘to-do list’ to follow.

Another great piece of information…a chart that compares allergy practices in Canadian Universities. Click here for the link.

Michael and I are planning to visit a few Universities this fall…with all this great information, we will be prepared to ask informative questions. Not only does Michael need to choose a university to meet his educational pursuits…he needs to find a university that will accommodate his unique food allergies.

I would love to hear from anyone who has already been through this process or is at the same place as we are…any tips would be helpful.

I hope to keep you up-to-date on our progress…as Michael prepares to head off in a new chapter of his life.

Back To School With Anaphylaxis 2013

Well it is that time of year again…time to think about heading back to school.

As both my boys are anaphylactic and have asthma…I will be updating, if need be, their Emergency Medical Plans (provided by the school), writing a letter to the school staff outlining their specific medical conditions…food allergies and asthma…and creating a quick reference Emergency Medical Form for their teachers and substitute teachers (provided by Anaphylaxis Canada see below) and a quick reference Asthma Action Plan (provided by the Canadian Lung Association…click here for a link.)

My eldest starting grade 12…dairy, eggs, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, mustard and raspberries and my youngest starting grade 10…peanut/tree nuts.

Anaphylaxis Canada makes my job easier by outlining some key resources for me to review:

1)  An online webinar:  Back to School – How to Manage Allergies This School Season…click here.
2)  Parent Checklist:  Key reminders for parents and students…click here.
3)  School Staff Checklist:  An overview for educators and school staff…click here.
4)  Information for Teens and Young Adults:  Why Risk It? …a teen site for safety and management tips…click here.

My personal favourite this year…a one page Emergency Medical Plan Form. This form quickly identifies my boys with their photo, list of food allergies, auto-injector information/expiry date/location, signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, procedure to follow during an anaphylactic reaction, and emergency contact information.

The one page Emergency Medical Plan Form is easy to fill out, easy to read, and acts as a quick reference for each of my boys’ teachers to have on hand for their file, for the substitute teacher’s file, for the staff room and main office. Click here for a link. Click here for a link for more of Anaphylaxis Canada’s list of Helpful Info.

Personally, I think the more information we offer to educate our educators and the students that interact with our children with anaphylaxis on a daily basis…the better.

As parents of children or students with anaphylaxis…we cannot totally rely on the school systems to be up-to-date on the ongoing progresses in the ‘world of anaphylaxis.’

It is up to us…as parents/caregivers…to continue to be advocates for our children with anaphylaxis.

With the onus on us…as parents/caregivers…setting a good example by teaching our children with anaphylaxis to becoming advocates for themselves.

We need to learn to ‘pass the torch’…giving our children with anaphylaxis the opportunity to be confident, independent, contributing members of society.

As parents of a child/children with anaphylaxis…what will you be doing to get ready to send your child/children off to school?

As a student with anaphylaxis…what will you be doing you do to get ready to start a new school year?

Click here to read about how EpipenPrincess at A Tale of Anaphylaxis is preparing for Grade 12 with anaphylaxis with her post on ‘Back To School Basics’.

Anaphylaxis Canada Launches Exciting New Program For Teens: The Allergy Awareness Challenge

Today, August 28, 2013, Anaphylaxis Canada is launching an exciting new program for teens…The Allergy Awareness Challenge.

Check it out…click here for a link.

The Allergy Awareness Challenge was designed by teens for teens…Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel...helped to design all the games and materials.

The Allergy Awareness Challenge is an educational tool for teens which specifically focuses on spreading the word about anaphylaxis through three fun days of interactive challenges:

1)  Adopt An Allergy
2)  Food Allergy Jeopardy
3)  Food Allergy Spelling Bee

The Allergy Awareness Challenge is student run with all the materials provided by Anaphylaxis Canada…free!

I would really love your feedback on Anaphylaxis Canada’s Allergy Awareness Challenge.

Parents, caregivers, students…is it something you would consider proposing to your school?

I know I will definitely be informing my boys high school about this unique opportunity.

Food Allergies And The Classroom: Tips for Parents

My two teenaged boys with multiple food allergies (dairy, egg, beef, lamb, sesame, peanut/tree nuts, fish, shellfish, mustard and raspberries) are both in high school…grades 9 and 11.

Adapting to food allergies in the classroom has been a learning experience for myself and both their primary school and high school.

Patience, team work and tons of communication have been the key ingredients to the success of my boys’ journey thus far.

My focus has always been about building a support team to ensure the safety of my boys within the school. My boys’ support team includes…students, classmates, teachers, secretaries, principals, vice-principals, custodians, supply teachers, and parents.

How does one successfully build a support team for their child with food allergies?

I think Tip #15 for parents with allergic youth by Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel makes a good point. It states, ” Make sure the information you give is 100 % accurate and not exaggerated to appear more serious. This information will stay with us for a long time and influence our thoughts and actions.”

I think this not only applies to our children with food allergies but also to anyone that we educate on their behalf.

If you come on too strongly or appear ‘wishy washy’…you risk not being taken seriously. Finding that ‘happy medium’, in my experience, will garner you a better chance of building the team you will need to ensure the safety of your child within their school.

Having worked within the school system, I gained experience dealing with overprotective parents of children with special needs. Ironically, I found myself ‘sitting in the other seat’...my two children with food allergies set them apart from the norm.

As a parent with children with food allergies, I say to myself, “What do I know?…What do I want/need?…What is the bottom line?”

“I know that my boys have life threatening food allergies, I know Sabrina’s Law (in Ontario) has been passed to protect my children with anaphylaxis, I know there is an Individual Student Plan (in Ontario) to fill out to protect students with anaphylaxis, I know I need the support from the school to keep my boys safe…I know I need the school on my team.

“I want to work with the school, I want the school on my team, I want the school backing me, I want the school to take me seriously, I want all teachers, substitute teachers and school staff trained in the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and the administration of an auto-injector (EpiPen, Twinject or Allerject)…I want all these things so my children will be safe at school.”

The bottom line:   I want the entire school staff and students to know that if they see one of my boys with food allergies showing any signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis they will all know to get the auto-injector, administer it and call 911.

The following are tips I have used to help me build a support team for a safe environment for my children at their school:

1)  Approach the school with an open mind…a demanding stance will only put the school in a defensive mode.
2)  Be prepared to volunteer your time in the classroom, on field trips or whenever volunteers are required…this is the perfect opportunity to spread food allergy awareness and to meet other parents, students and school staff.
3)  Maintain an approachable nature…be open to questions from parents, students and staff…great opportunity for food allergy awareness.
4)  Understand that not everyone understands anaphylaxis…some comments you may hear should be taken with ‘a grain of salt’…count to ten, then use your discretion to gently educate them.
5)  Offer great sites for information and educational material…Anaphylaxis Canada, Allergy/Asthma Information Association, Medic-AlertAllergic Living Magazine and Why Risk It?  Click here for more resources from Anaphylaxis Canada.
6)  Our children with food allergies are their best advocates…in the words of an allergic youth from Tip #17, “Encourage us to tell others about our allergies, try not to always be the one telling our story.”
7)  Change takes time, patience, and persistence…as trailblazers ourselves, I know only too well the ‘deer in headlights’ look when I mention my eldest son’s list of food allergies. As overwhelming as the situation may be…taking it one step at a time…change will come.

I believe working with schools as a team, giving our children with food allergies the opportunity to advocate on behalf of themselves and supplying as many resources as possible providing food allergy awareness to my boys’ schools has given me the piece of mind that I need to send my boys with multiple food allergies off to school every day. This has been my norm.

Questions:  What are some of your tips for navigating the school system with your child/children’s food allergies? What has worked for you? What are your stories?

My Unique Opportunity to Offer A Hands On Epi Pen Experience For High School Teachers

I experienced my unique opportunity at my boys’ high school on Monday…I gave an Epi Pen presentation at their staff meeting.

Epi Pen and TwinJet trainers from Anaphylaxis Canada

I spoke in front of the entire staff of high school teachers, gave an Epi Pen demonstration with an Epi Pen Trainer and offered a hands-on experience administering ‘real expired Epi Pens’ in to an orange. (oranges best simulate the resistance that an Epi Pen would experience being injected into the upper thigh)

Matthew administering an expired Epi Pen in an orange

This is a picture of Matthew practicing at home with an expired Epi Pen…I was too busy to snap a few pictures at the meeting.

My opportunity arose at the beginning of the 2012 school year. I mentioned to the Vice-Principal, at the boys’ high school, that I had some expired Epi Pens. I explained the Epi Pen demonstration I presented to Matthew’s Grade 8 class at the end of the school year (May, 2012)…I had brought in a couple of expired Epi Pens for Matthew’s Grade 8 teacher and Epi Pen Buddy to administer in to an orange.

The Vice-Principal was intrigued with the idea and came up with a plan…offer Michael and Matthew’s high school teachers the opportunity to practice with an expired Epi Pen on the first Professional Development Day. Unfortunately, that day did not work out…I was rescheduled for the next staff meeting.

I knew I would have a limited time to speak/demonstrate/and have the teachers practice with the expired Epi Pens. As I tend to get carried away, ramble on and get lost in tangents…I called Anaphylaxis Canada for some advice.

I spoke with Jane who had just recently joined Anaphylaxis Canada. Jane revealed to me that her daughter, in her twenties now, has food allergies…her daughter was bullied throughout her school years. Jane was more than delighted to put together a package for me which I picked up the very next day. (I happened to be passing through Toronto…Anaphylaxis Canada is easy to get to from the 401)

Package put together by Anaphylaxis Canada

Jane had posters (Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions…listing the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and Why Risk It?…a site for Canadian teens with food allergies), pamphlets, a list of alternate resources, a Twinjet Demonstrator with instructions and was even able to find an Epi Pen trainer for me to bring for a demonstration. (See above photo)

Jane’s advice to me…relay the importance of quickly administering the Epi Pen without hesitation…seconds count…administering an Epi Pen will not hurt the student…time is of the essence! Great advice…thank you Jane. :)

I have to admit…I was a bit nervous presenting in front of my boys’ entire high school staff. Good thing I practiced!

What did I hope the high school teachers would take from my presentation and hands on experience with an Epi Pen?

The Bottom Line:

1)  All staff should know who the students with anaphylaxis are…by sight.
2)  All staff should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis.
3)  All staff should be trained in the proper administration of an Epi Pen and follow-up (delegate someone to call 911 and report back, delegate someone to retrieve the backup Epi Pen from the office, treat for shock, note time of administration, administer second Epi Pen if signs and symptoms worsen, call emergency contact, wait for ambulance) to eliminate any hesitation and delay of medication.
4)  Together we can save a life.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with how many teachers were eager to try out the expired Epi Pens.

Many teachers had lots of questions…it was a bit chaotic…an adrenaline rush…it was a unique opportunity for the high school teachers to partake in…I hope I made an impact…I would do it all again in a minute!

I felt very honoured to have been invited to speak about Anaphylaxis and the Epi Pen in front of my boys’ high school teachers…I believe it was a first for all of us. Thank you so much!

This unique opportunity opens the doors of communication which is imperative when dealing with teenage students in high school settings with anaphylaxis.

Increasing awareness and education of anaphylaxis and the proper administration of an Epi Pen without hesitation, I believe, is key to saving lives.

I hope this is the first of many presentations!

P.S. Have you ever practiced with your expired Epi Pens in an orange? What did you think about it? Do you own an Epi Pen or TwinJet Trainer?

Highschool and Multiple Food Allergies: Teachers Can Make A Difference

I wanted to share with you my latest experience in regards to my son with multiple food allergies in highschool.

On Sunday, I received a call from Michael’s Grade 11 Math teacher. He needed a reminder of all of Michael’s food allergies (the medical form was at school)  as he planned to bring in a box of muffins and juice boxes for Michael’s math class on Monday. (Michael’s food allergies include dairy, egg, beef, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberry)

Apparently, Michael’s math class did surprisingly well on Friday’s math test by achieving between 90-100%! Michael’s Math teacher was astounded with the results, thus prompting a mini celebration of their achievements.

Michael’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything safe he could bring in for Michael to eat. I explained to him the difficulty in finding a baked good that is free of dairy, egg, sesame and peanut/tree nuts. As I had just made a batch of Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares…I offered that Michael could bring one of those to eat in class.

I explained to the teacher…lately, Michael seems to be very sensitive to being centered out as the ‘kid with lots of food allergies’. For the teacher to bring something in ‘special’ would more than likely centre Michael out…being able to casually bring out a ‘treat’ of his own would, more than likely, be less conspicuous. After talking with Michael…I had made the right decision.

Michael’s teacher understood completely…he disclosed that his child carries an epi pen for their cashew and sesame allergy.

This is the third teacher at Michael’s highschool that has informed me of having a child with a food allergy. It certainly helps spread the word about food allergies and anaphylaxis when teachers in the school system are living their lives with food allergies themselves.

To get the ‘ball rolling’communication plays a key role in educating our teachers/general public on food allergies and anaphylaxis: relaying our experiences with food related allergic reactions…putting real names and faces to anaphylactic reactions…presenting access to further forms of information to increase the awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis in our schools, workplace and extra curricular activities…these are all ways we can spread the word to bring food allergies/anaphylaxis to the forefront.

Anaphylaxis is not something to hide behind.

I know for a fact, that all the work I have done in regards to providing as much information on anaphylaxis as I can for my boys’ teachers, has “got the teachers talking”…as told to me by the Vice-Principal of my boys’ highschool.That means the world to me!

I  must have thanked Michael’s Math teacher ‘a million times’ for calling…repeated ‘a million times’ how much I appreciated the call…teachers like Michael’s Math teacher are worth their weight in gold!

After speaking, at length, to Michael’s Math teacher, I relayed our conversation to Michael…he decided he would take in a Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Square, which he may or may not eat during Math class.

At the end of the day, I asked Michael whether or not he did actually eat his snack…”Ya” was the only response I got until he pointed out, “The muffins looked really good though.”

Broke my heart…

How do address food related issues in your child/children’s classrooms with their food allergies?

P.S. Michael was rather disappointed that I did not ask his Math teacher the mark on his math test…he had to wait until Monday to find out he achieved 100%! The principal of the school even showed up to congratulate the class and hand out the tests.

Multiple Food Allergies and Teenagers: Trying Not To Step Over The Fine Line

My eldest son, Michael, turned 16 this summer. 

Living the life of a teenager…he looks forward to playing house league hockey each week, shares a paper route with his younger brother, Matthew, spends his extra time playing road hockey or basketball with his brother and friends, or disappears to the ‘man cave’ to play videos.

Along with the ‘fun teenage stuff’… first and foremost, comes school.

Michael worked hard at school last year to achieve an Honours average in Grade 10…my husband and I are so very proud…it has been quite the journey.

Michael lives everyday with multiple food allergies, asthma and eczema. A fact he would love to forget…love to see disappear…love for me to stop talking about.

This is worrisome for me. According to an article written by Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living Magazine, Dr. Antony Ham Pong states, ” For the life-threatening allergens the highest risk of dying is as a teenager.”  The article goes on to state that teenagers “act impulsively and sometimes take risks.” Dr. Ham Pong states, “There is a feeling of invulnerability that teenagers tend to have…if you ask them what the risks are, they know. But are they concerned? Not so much. It does not register with them.” Click here to view the entire article.

I understand that, as a teenager, Michael just wants to fit in. However, the reality is he is living his life with a life threatening condition…one that should not be taken lightly.

I am currently walking a fine line…establishing a safe environment within his school setting without centering Michael out within his peers.

This year, I find myself treading in the ‘unchartered waters’ of the teenage years.

MIchael’s Vice-Principal came up with the idea that I prepare an allergy friendly treat for Michael to enjoy after The Honours Night ceremony. The Vice-Principal presented the idea to the teacher who was organizing the event and advised me to contact them.  The teacher was more than pleased to prepare an allergy friendly treat, however, after discussing cross-contamination issues, it was agreed that I would prepare the treat.

Unfortunately, Michael did not feel the same way…he would prefer that I forget the whole idea…he did not want anything made.

Honours Night was all about celebrating those students who have made the effort to achieve a high standing average at school. It was a night to celebrate Michael’s academic achievements.

Keeping that in mind…I wanted Michael to feel comfortable. I wanted him to enjoy the night. I wanted him to feel proud of his achievement…to know how proud my husband and I are that he reached his goal. I wanted to honour Michael’s feelings…I did not feel I should compromise his night.  I wanted him to experience ‘feeling like everyone else’…I chose not to bake anything allergy friendly.

The teenage years is a hard time to embrace one’s uniqueness.

Stepping back, I know this was the right decision. How do I prepare my children to be independent, cognizant, productive members of society? How to I prepare my children for the insensitivities of those around them?

I believe, building my boys’ sense of pride, self-worth and self-esteem is fundamental in a world where compassion may be lacking. At the same time, I also believe educating the general public with the basics of anaphylaxis and the proper administration of an epi pen to be vital first aid knowledge. Click here for Anaphylaxis Canada’s post on ‘Understanding Anaphylaxis’.

Anaphylaxis Canada maintains and operates, Why Risk It? Where Real Life and Allergies Collide. A site dedicated for teenagers with food allergies at risk for anaphylaxis. Click here for a link to the site.

With stories of bullying, carrying an auto-injector (epi pen), cross-contamination, dating, dining out, partying, public places, reading labels, school, and travel…teenagers are presented with other teenagers experiences leaving them feeling less alone. Click here for a link.

Why Risk It? even has a blog…‘written and maintained by members of Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel, a group of allergic youth from across Canada.’ Click here to view.

I will continue to tread lightly during these teenage years , being careful of that fine line…spreading the word on anaphylaxis and listening to my boys’ needs without losing sight of the potential danger of apathy on their part.

P.S. Needless to say, it was a great night! Inspirational Keynote Address by a former student who is now an English/Dance teacher at the school (Michael’s current English teacher), beautiful soloist by one of the students and an amazing motivational video that we all felt was outstanding!

Honours Night 2012 for Michael, Grade 10

P.P.S. Slices of chocolate slab cake and coffee was offered at the reception…I didn’t try a piece, but I am sure my Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Chocolate Cake would have given that cake a run for its money! lol  :)

How are you handling the teenage years with your teenaged child/children with food allergies?

Back To School With Food Allergies: Matthew Starts Highschool: Part 2

Last Monday, I had both Michael and Matthew hand out their Medical Information Sheets to their 4 teachers…the Individual Student Plan also made its rounds. (Click here to read Part 1 covering both)

On Thursday night, Andy and I attended a Grade 9 Night for parents. It was a great opportunity for parents to take part in a typical Grade 9 day by following their child’s timetable. It was a chance to hear the expectations of their teachers, voice any concerns, followed by a presentation by the Guidance Office, Parent Council, Vice-Principals and Principal.  Various programs the school have to offer were outlined…options available for setting students up for success.

By handing out Matthew’s Medical Information Sheet and Individual Student Plan at the beginning of the week before the Grade 9 event, it gave Matthew’s teachers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with his medical backround…opening the door to any questions they may or may not have upon our initial meeting.

In those first few minutes before Matthew’s teachers started their presentation to the parents, I quickly introduced myself. I must say, all the teachers were very receptive to the information they received.

I learned one of his teacher’s has a child with Type 1 Diabetes and had already discussed Matthew’s peanut/tree nut allergy with the class (Michael also had this teacher in Grade 9). Another teacher disclosed that they have a child with a peanut/tree nut allergy and has grown out of some of their other food allergies. This teacher, in particular, was excited to learn of Allergic Living Magazine.

I had previously presented a copy of  the Fall 2012 Allergic Living Magazine to the Vice-Principal.  While perusing the magazine together, I learned that one of the school’s staff members is celiac…each edition includes regular sections devoted to ‘Celiac Expert, Shelley Case’ and ‘Gluten-Free Girl, Shauna James Ahern’, plus loads of ‘gluten-free recipes’, along with the magazine’s other great allergy/asthma related sectionsthe Vice-Principal was very impressed!

I believe this edition/magazine is a ‘must have’ for all schools with students/teachers with food allergies/asthma/celiac disease. I purchased this specific Fall 2012 Allergic Living Magazine edition for my boys’ highschool. The Vice-Principal will be handing it over to be available in the library for both teachers and students.

It is my hope that the school will decide that an Allergic Living Magazine subscription be a permanent fixture in their library.

Particular articles I marked and quickly pointed out to Matthew’s teachers:

-Editor, Gwen Smith’s, Editor’s Note titled ‘Schooled in Allergies’ highlights her inspiration for nominations for the ’2012 School Food Allergy Super Hereos’ article. I love her quote…”Education, done well, is a wonderful and powerful thing”. She ends with…”Afterall, when kids are safe in school, they can get back to what they’re there for: learning and finding out what bright future lies ahead.”

-Allergic Living’s School Food Allergy Super Heroes article: 6 uplifting stories highlighting principals, teachers and support staff as allergy-aware leaders.

-Avoiding Asthma Triggers At School article: highlights the increased occurence of asthma flare-ups in the fall season which seems to coincide with the return to the classroom. A list of classroom triggers is presented.

-Laura Harada, Executive Director of Anaphylaxis Canada’s article titled, ‘Off to College’ with an additional article by her son, Julian D’Souza, titled, ‘Son’s Point of View’: what a relief to read that most universities see food allergies as a reason for a single dorm room! I really enjoyed reading from a student with food allergies perspective.

-Kelly Rudnicki’s article titled, “The New Kid”:  A mother’s journey, in the United States, with her son with severe food allergies and asthma with various school systems.  

As you can see, this Fall 2012 edition of Allergic Living is a gem! (this is solely my opinion, no one is paying me to recommend this magazine)

As result of my interactions with the Vice-Principal…

1)  The Vice-Principal has encouraged me to join Parent Council…my presence this year would enable me to take part, in particular, with Graduation. As Michael will be graduating the following year, it could be beneficial for the school and myself to have an allergy awareness voice on the panel.

2)  I am currently looking into volunteering my time for Honours Night…students graduating with Honours the previous year come back for an evening where they are honoured. Michael achieved Honours last year…as there will be food present, I am looking to prepare some allergy friendly treats.

3)  I am waiting for confirmation of another activity to participate in…more details to come if it gets approved.

Matthew was initially nervous heading off to high school, however, the Vice-Principal’s attention to detail…introduction to the cafeteria staff and his teacher’s responses to his peanut/tree nut allergy…has seemed to put him at ease. He just recently said to me, “I feel very comfortable at school. The people there really seem to ‘get it’.” With tears in my eyes…” I thank you!”

As a mother with boys with food allergies, I feel my presence in the high school has been very welcoming…it has been quite a pleasure entering the high school and greeted with friendly, welcoming smiles from all the high school staff.

I believe in raising the awareness of anaphylaxis with food allergies through education. I believe together we can make school’s a safe environment where all students can learn.

P.S. Michael has just let me know that one of his teachers would like him to bring in the epi pen trainer to try in the classroom.

Questions: How do you approach your child with food allergies school? Do you get involved with Parent Council, volunteering in the classroom, presentations to staff/students, field trips and/or events at your child with food allergies school? Do you subscribe to Allergic Living Magazine? What do you enjoy about Allergic Living Magazine?

I know that is a lot of questions…I just really would love to hear how other families relate with their child with food allergies schools…I am always open to ideas/tips/your views! Please leave a comment…I would love to hear from you!

Back To School With Food Allergies: Matthew Starts Highschool: Part 1

It’s that time of year again…back to school! Time to organize myself in regards to the boys’ epi pens, puffers, Individual Student Plans and Medical Information Sheets for their teachers.

This year both my boys will be attending high school. Michael is entering Grade 11 and Matthew Grade 9.

Looking back upon when Michael first started at high school, I was initially a little shocked that there really did not seem to be anything in place for students with anaphylaxis.  For example, there were no copies of the Individual Student Plan…I got the sense that they had never seen one before.

Much to the school’s credit, they were more than willing to listen and work with me as I unfolded my ideas. Click here to read about how I set up Matthew in Grade 8 and Michael in his first year at high school.

Two years later, I am now known on site as I walk into the main office. I deal with one secretary, in particular, regarding the boys’ epi pens, puffers, and Individual Student Plans and Medical Information Sheets along with the Vice-Principal. Through my process of putting together Matthew’s Medical Information Sheet, Individual Student Plan and my popping in to drop off Matthew’s forgotten epi pen…the Attendance Secretary also, now knows me on site.

All have been ever so helpful, understanding and have encouraged me to continue to voice my concerns and ideas. I can’t tell you how much that means to me!

Enter Matthew…I was ever so pleased that this year, the main office had copies of the Individual Student Plan for me to fill out for Matthew. Last year, I just updated Michael’s Grade 9 Individual Student Plan, took it to his pediatrician and had both he and I initial the updated version. This year, rather than taking the entire Individual Student Plan, the office has photocopied the section his doctor has filled out. I will take the photocopy for him to initial at our next appointment. I shall do the same for Matthew next year.

Apparently, at the beginning of last year’s school year, all students, who had been identified to the office as anaphylactic, were called down to the office and given an Individual Student Plan to fill out…progress!

Each year, I create an updated Medical Information Sheet on my boys for each of their four teachers to keep in their student file with a copy for the substitute teacher. I keep it brief, to the point, on one page…with a recent student picture attached.  

The Medical Information Sheet basically outlines the boys’ specific food allergies, notes they have asthma, their medications, location of medications, and step-by-step instructions on ‘what to do in case of an emergency’….anaphylactic shock.

I also attach a copy with the definition of anaphylaxis, the top 11 food triggers, and symptoms of anaphylaxis and asthma. It is a quick reference guide for the teachers to have on hand as the Individual Student Plan is filed away in the office.

Before the boys hand out the their Medical Information Sheets, I review them with the Vice-Principal, leaving the original copy for the office to have on file. Copies are posted in the teachers’ lounge.

As the only copy of the Individual Student Plan for each of the boys is kept filed in the office…I have set up a process where by each of the boys’ Individual Student Plans are passed between their teachers for review.

My feeling is that many teachers’ are unaware of its existence…sending it around for their review brings it to their attention. For instance:  this year, one of Michael’s teachers approached the Vice-Principal in regards to Michael’s medical information packages. apparently, this teacher has a child with food allergies and was unaware of such a procedure. After discussing the importance of the packages educational value, this teacher has decided to put one together for their child…more progress!

Attached to the Individual Student Plan is a cover letter introducing my boys and their medical conditions…food allergies and asthma. I highlighted Anaphylaxis Canada’s website as a good reference and encouraged them to read Sabrina’s Story. (I gave a brief description of who she is and how Sabrina’s Law came in to effect)

At the bottom of the cover letter are the boys’ specific teachers’ names with a line for the teachers to sign after they have read over the Individual Student Plan. (I encourage the teachers to pay particular attention to page 6…The List of Strategies To Prevent an Anaphylactic Reaction)

Last year, Andy received a call from one of Michael’s teachers. The teacher did not feel comfortable signing the cover letter. Andy asked if she had read over Michael’s Individual Student Plan…she had. Bottom line…at the end of the day, that is really all we want. We had no problem with the teacher omitting their signature.

As a result of this experience,  I have updated this year’s cover letter to include a note stating that if the teacher does not feel comfortable signing the sheet, they are to let the Vice-Principal know they have read over the boys’ Individual Student Plan.

This journey is a learning experience for all of us.

Ulitimately…if one of my boys is seen having trouble breathing, displaying one or many of the symptoms of anaphylactic shock or is found collapsed on the floor…the first thing I want teachers/students to think is…this could be an allergic reaction…they could be in anaphylactic shock….ADMINISTER THE EPI PEN, CALL 911! 

Click here for Part 2.

What procedures do you go through in order to set up your child with food allergies at their school? What have you learned on your journey? Any tips?

Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Grade 8 Graduation Cupcakes!

Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Vanilla and Chocolate Graduation CupcakesLast night, my youngest son, Matthew, officially graduated from Grade 8!

Matthew graduating Grade 8 with Honours, 2012

Yes, a few tears were shed…I was a very proud mama…he graduated with Honours!

Celebrations started earlier in the day…a Peanut/Tree Nut Free Pizza Party for the graduating class along with the entire staff! (Pizza was ordered from Pizza Nova. Click here for their allergen information site.)

A couple of Matthew’s former teachers, which have left the school, attended last night’s Grade 8 Graduation ceremony…so nice of them to return and celebrate with their former students.

Apparently, when Michael graduated 2 years ago , his graduating class was the first in the history of graduating classes to have so many former teachers return for their Graduation! It was so nice to see the tradition continue this year too!

Both my boys have been extremely fortunate…both classes were bully free!  A very important factor considering the high risk factor associated with food allergies. Click here for a great article written by Laurie Harada at Allergic Living Magazine, titled, ‘If Your Child Is Bullied.’ Laurie offers some great advice.

I offered to bake allergen friendly cupcakes for the party…

Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes!

An arrangement of Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Vanilla and Chocolate Graduation Cupcakes

It makes me so happy to see the students faces light up at the site of my cupcakes. A grade 7 student spied me leaving the school carrying my empty cupcake containers, “Are those your famous cupcakes?”, he queried.

All through the years, students have been enjoying my baking…unaware that dairy, egg, soy and peanuts or tree nuts are not on the ingredient list.

Proving…allergen friendly baking is kid friendly and delish!

One of Matthew’s classmates ‘fancy’ way of eating cupcakes!

A new way to enjoy a Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Cupcake!

Check out those gorgeous nails for her Grade 8 Grad!

At the party, I had the opportunity to chat with Matthew’s Grade 8 teacher…we discussed the journey that each of us has travelled while learning and adapting to living in a world with food allergies.

A journey better travelled in pairs…school and family working together to formulate a ‘safe environment’ for each and every student despite their ‘disability’. A journey full of communication, compromises and cooperation…a team approach.

Education is key…being in a school setting, one would think that should not be so difficult…yet for some it is! Why is that?

Food Allergy Mama recently moved to a new city.  Her journey with her son’s food allergies, dairy and nuts, begins again. Click here to read her frustrating story of having to start from ‘scratch’ with a new school system that ‘just does not get it’. My heart goes out to her and to the many families struggling to keep their children ‘safe’ at school.

Another 48 Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes were left for the evening dance…subs were ordered from Mr. Sub…which were peanut/tree nut free. At the end of the evening, the leftover cupcakes were put away for the Grade 7 students, who helped out at the ceremony, to enjoy today.

I thank goodness for Sabrina’s Lawit has ‘opened the eyes and hearts’ of many…paving a path for all children with food allergies.

May Sabrina’s spirit live on as her story continues to spread…educating and ‘warming hearts’ across the country and around the world! If you are unfamiliar with Sabrina’s Story, click here to read an article written by Gwen Smith from Allergic Living Magazine.

My boys’ journey in grade school is now officially over, leaving me to focus more of my attention on the high school years.

I will continue to meet with and discuss my boys’ food allergies with highschool staff…educating all those who come in contact with my boys the importance of food allergy awareness.

Our trailblazing journey is not over yet!

Matthew’s graduating class of 2012 is a class full of hope and promise for the future! I wish them all well on their new journey!

I leave you with a quote for graduation that Matthew chose for it’s inspirational nature.

Matthew's inspirational quote for his Grade 8 Graduation, 2012

“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all-”   J.K. Rowling, novelist.