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?

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.

A Tragic Loss of a Child with Food Allergies: Amarrie Johnson

On January 2, 2012, 7-year-old Amarrie Johnson from Chesterfield Virginia, ingested one of her food allergens (peanut) while at her school and died.

When I first learned of this tragedy…I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.

Details regarding all the specifics have not been shared with the public. It is these specific details that led up to the death of Amarrie that are the pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together.

As a parent with two boys with multiple food allergies, I want…need answers. Why did this happen?

Read about her story here and here.

In the year 2012, with all the knowledge and medication that is out there…a death of a child with a food allergies should be preventable.

Words cannot describe how I feel…I am at a loss… I sit here at my computer trying to sort through my feelings…it is any parents’ worst nightmare.

I am feeling sad…the loss of a child is a tragedy…the family must be devastated.

I am feeling confused…was an emergency plan for her not established…why was  medication not administered to her…what type of awareness among staff and students was there in regards to students with food allergies at the school?

I am feeling angry…how many children must die before society takes food allergies seriously?

As a parent of two boys with multiple food allergies, I understand full well the need to educate both staff and students, in our schools, in the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and how to administer an epi pen.

Knowledge is power…knowledge can save lives.

Read my Grade 8 presentation experience with my youngest son’s classroom here. Read my back to school experience for my eldest son to high school here.

The safety of all children should be paramount in all schools. Accidents happen…that is why children with food allergies need emergency plans in place.

In Ontario, where I live, we have Sabrina’s Law. On January 1 , 2006, all schools in Ontario were required by law, to have policies and procedures for those children with food allergies and all staff to be trained in the administration of the epi pen.

Sabrina Shannon died from an anaphylactic reaction to dairy at her school. Her name and story lives on with Sabrina’s Law. Read her story here.

Click here for a list of Canadian and U.S. Anaphylaxis Laws Guidelines.

If there is one thing I have learned through my journey with food allergies, eczema and asthma with my boys…never assume!

I have learned to be an advocate for my boys’ safety…being proactive…educating those who are in contact with my boys…from fellow students, teachers, school staff (cafeteria and custodians included), neighbours, parents, coaches…doing my best to try to cover all the bases.

In two weeks, my youngest son will be heading off on his Grade 8 overnight trip to Camp Muskoka. It is a three-day, two night trip north of the city. An allergy related death of a child is unnerving.

Camp Muskoka is peanut/tree nut free and follows Anaphylaxis Canada’s policy. I must say, I feel confident sending Matthew (peanut/tree nut allergy). My eldest son, Michael  (dairy,egg,beef,sesame,peanut/tree nut,fish,shellfish,raspberry and mustard allergies) attended this same camp 2 years ago. As difficult as it was, I knew I had sent him in capable hands with every safety precaution covered, as best as I knew how, between his teachers, students and staff at Camp Muskoka.

I will be writing a post on our positive experience.

Kelly, a family friend of the Johnson’s family, is quoted as saying, “If you want to honor Amarrie, don’t grieve for the rest of your life.” “Do something about it. Let’s honor her memory by making sure that what happened to her never happens to another child.”

Amarrie’s death brings us face to face with the reality of the dangers of living with food allergies…my heart breaks for her family…I feel paralyzed with sadness…it is a reminder of how vigilant we must be…may Amarrie’s death not be in vain…may compassion unlock the doors to food allergy awareness everywhere.

How has Amerrie’s death affected you?

P.S. Some posts I recommend reading with their opinions are: Food Allergy Mama, DairyFreeDiner, Frugal Food Allergies and Nut-Free Mom.