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’ 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?

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!