Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergies at School: Moving Beyond Food Bans December 10, 2021

For years, school administrators and parents alike have struggled with the question of how to keep students with food allergies safe while in their care. And in some cases, both schools and parents have supported school-wide bans on allergens in an effort to protect food allergic children. But for many, food bans just don’t work. So what do studies show? And what should schools be doing to safeguard children with food allergies?

School-Wide Food Bans

Food bans often prohibit all students from bringing in a specific allergen. Most often it is peanuts that are banned, followed closely by tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc) or more generically “all nuts” (presumably peanuts and tree nuts). Limits like these can work on the classroom level, but are impractical when elevated to a school-wide policy.

  1. Peanuts and tree nuts are only two of the nine most common allergens and there are over 160 documented foods to be allergic to.
  2. Any allergen can cause a serious reaction. Banning nuts only protects those students and staff who have a peanut or tree nut allergy.
  3. School-wide bans cannot be enforced.
  4. Banning food school-wide often leads to the assumption that everything that comes through the school door is safe. We know that teachers and administrators cannot police every snack, special treat and lunch that each and every student and staff member brings. And the last thing you’d want to teach a food allergic child is to eat something (assuming it’s safe) without checking on the ingredients first.

Studies have also shown that food bans don’t protect students. In fact, a five-year study conducted by McMaster Children’s Hospital in Ontario, Canada notes that bans can actually stigmatize them by making them targets of frustration over food. Students with food allergies often cannot eat with their friends and become victims of bullying – a far too common, far too unmentioned experience of kids with food allergies.

When are Food Bans a Good Idea?

Preschool aged children are at a difficult developmental stage for food allergy management. They may not be able to understand the nuances and dangers of their food allergic classmates’ condition. In their effort to be a good friend, they may try to share food; and food allergic kids may be unable to distinguish safe from unsafe food at that age. And, of course, preschoolers have their hands on everything, setting the stage for cross-contact reactions.

Food bans are also a good idea within a classroom. The classroom is meant to be a safe and inclusive place for ALL students. It should be the protective home base for students with food allergies. Eliminating a student’s allergen from the classroom whenever possible is conducive to learning. If a student is worried that they may have a frightening reaction triggered by something in the classroom, they will be unable to focus on almost anything else as their minds and bodies go into fight or flight mode.

Food bans are also a good idea at group events such as the school dance, special group rewards involving food, team snacks, etc. Focusing on inclusiveness is critical – it’s a lesson in empathy and support for all involved.

What DOES Work? Better Management Ideas for Better Outcomes

Couple classroom and event-based food bans with these strategies for a protective and inclusive experience for students with food allergies:

  1. Food Allergy Education: Kids are told to protect their friends with food allergies but are never taught the basics of the condition. Lessons on food allergy fit nicely into units about nutrition and health. Bonus: lessons about food allergy tend to be very interactive. They result in noticeably stronger sense of community and empathy for this and other invisible conditions in classrooms of all ages.
  2. Food Allergy Training: Teachers, administrators and staff should also receive an education on food allergies. Theirs should include symptoms of an allergic reaction and the language a student might use to describe it, how to manage a reaction and what to do in case of emergency. They should also focus on the social/emotional impact of food allergies and related conditions so they can keep an eye on students who may be struggling.
  3. Cafeteria: There are many ways to make the cafeteria a safer place for students with food allergies. First, make the ingredients transparent for diners by either posting the inclusion of the top 9 allergens on each item without an ingredient label or offering a point person to answer questions (or both). Second, offer allergen-friendly tables or seating. Peanut-free tables do not protect students with nut or other allergies. If there is flexibility, offer a broader allergen-friendly table where kids with food allergies can eat and feel understood. Also, reserve the ends of dining tables for kids with food allergies; this way, they can eat with their friends but not feel bound on either side by potential danger.
  4. Enforce Hand Washing: Encourage or require children to wash their hands after eating and before entering their homeroom. Hand sanitizer (which is good at killing bacteria and viruses) does not remove the food protein that causes an allergic reaction. The only way to remove food protein is to wash with soap and water.
  5. Stock Epinephrine: Finally, in addition to allowing students to keep an extra set of epinephrine auto-injectors at school, schools should take advantage of the Stock Epinephrine Act to keep extra, unassigned epinephrine auto-injectors at school for use by anyone who may experience a reaction. Anyone can develop an allergy to anything at any time in their lives, so having this life-saving medication available in an emergency is critical.

 

Crafting a Comprehensive Food Allergy Policy at School July 23, 2019

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Across the country, schools create and reshape policies to balance the needs of their many students.  Every school should – but so often don’t – have a food allergy policy.  This policy should protect students with life-threatening food allergies – and it should be noted that although peanut allergies tend to provoke some of the most severe reactions, an allergy to ANY food can turn deadly. [Read about other allergic reactions here and here, for example.]

 

A food allergy policy is critical to give parents and their food allergic students guidelines about what to expect while their children are at school.  In addition, policies surrounding food allergies allow parents to prepare their children to safely manage their allergies in their school’s setting and gives parents and teachers time to prepare anything they need to keep their student both safe and included at school.

 

Where should schools begin?  And what should schools consider as they think of updating their current policy?

 

Some factors schools may wish to consider when formulating an inclusive food allergy policy and procedures:

 

  1. Creating a culture of inclusion and empathy:  What kinds of lessons are students receiving as part of their social-emotional learning?  What kinds of messages are students taking away from role models?  Does the behavior they see match the kindness and inclusion the school expects?  Read Including Food Allergic Students at School to review the many simple ways to begin the process.
  2. How and where to store epinephrine: Is the nurse’s office centrally located or would it be wise to also store epinephrine with a trained administrator closer to a lunchroom or classrooms?
  3. Keeping stock or unassigned epinephrine: In many states, schools are allowed to store epinephrine auto-injectors that are not prescribed to a particular student.  These stock epinephrine auto-injectors may be used with anyone who experiences a severe allergic reaction.  In a nationwide study, stock epinephrine is used in 38 percent of reactions that happen at school. That means approximately 30% of reactions happen to students and staff without a known allergy.
  4. Nursing schedules and availability: Who is trained to recognize the signs of a food allergy reaction? Do they know what to do in an emergency?  If the nurse is unavailable, who is responsible for handling this kind of crisis? Severe allergic reactions (called Anaphylaxis) are extremely serious and require IMMEDIATE attention.
  5. Hand washing:  Hand sanitizer does not remove food protein.  So actual hand washing is required when handling a student’s allergen to prevent cross-contamination. When and where should teachers enforce this habit?
  6. Communication with parents: Families of food allergic students need advance notice to make alternative arrangements for their children.  Schools benefit from this type of forethought as well.  For example, an upcoming in-school event which appeared to a teacher to be a problem for my food allergic son, turned out to be easy to manage with a few easy tweaks to the plan after we discussed the details involved.
  7. Availability of food storage space (for food allergy-friendly snacks and treats): whether the school supplies allergy-friendly snacks or families send them in, deciding where to store them for convenience and how to label them so that they are easy to identify is helpful.
  8. Field trip protocol: How will epinephrine accompany a student when he/she is off school grounds?  Who is trained to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction and know what to do in such an emergency?
  9. The bus ride:  Are the students allowed to eat on the bus?  Do they anyway?  Is the bus driver prepared or trained to administer epinephrine if needed? Are students allowed to carry their own medication on the bus?  Is this feasible for your students based on age, maturity, income level, etc (epinephrine auto-injectors are costly in some cases)?
  10. Classroom events:  birthdays, celebrations, holidays, and special events.  Specific guidelines for what is and is not allowed must be set as well as strict adherence to the policy established. Food allergies are NOT a preference. They can result in hospitalization in a matter of minutes.
  11. Nut bans: Worthy of a separate article and discussion, schools need to weigh the burden/reward of banning nuts entirely.  And they need to discuss the extent of the restrictions (will it extend to cross-contamination warnings like, “made in a factory with…”) and how to enforce them.

 

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Faculty and staff should be educated and re-educated about food allergies each year.  They must learn to recognize the signs of severe allergic reactions (called anaphylaxis) and what those symptoms might sound like in the words of a young child. They need to learn how to react to an allergic reaction.  Understanding the basics of cross-contamination and ingredient label reading, among other lessons, will help protect food allergic students in their classrooms.

 

Clear policies that are consistently enforced, as well as appropriate and reasonable accommodations,  will help teachers, administrators and students alike have a safe and fun school year.

 

Including Food Allergic Students at School September 17, 2018

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It’s the beginning of the school year!  Now is the perfect time to discuss best practices to keep kids with food allergies included in the classroom and beyond.  What are the best ways to keep a child safe at school?  How is teaching a food allergic child different from one without dietary restrictions?  How can teachers and parents better communicate to ensure a productive year together?

 

One of the most difficult and important places to manage food allergies is at school.  Parents, faculty, staff and administrators want and need to keep food allergic students physically safe during the school day – a place children spend the largest portion of their time outside the home. Inclusion at school is the “safe place” they need to develop psychologically and socially.

 

Where do schools begin and what factors should they consider?  

 

Education:  Not surprisingly, it all begins with EDUCATION.  Faculty and staff should be educated and reeducated about food allergies each year.  They should not only know:

but they should also learn about the perspective of their food allergic students who experience anxiety and exclusion at higher rates than their peers.

 

I urge all schools to consider adding Food Allergy Education to their Health curriculum.  Students are exposed to the idea of food allergies without understanding exactly what that means. Understanding food allergies is shown to build inclusion and community, stoke empathy and protect peers in students pre-K through high school.  In less than 20 minutes, a teacher can cover a basic lesson plan on food allergies and reap all of the above benefits in his/her classroom for the entire year.

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Exclude the FOOD (not the CHILD).

Eating In the Classroom:  Parties, holiday celebrations, and special events should be as inclusive and safe as possible.  I’ve heard from many families across the country whose children have been sent out of the room during class parties because their allergen was being served;  children who are sent to eat with the school nurse instead of their friends; children who are told to stay away from the group who are eating an allergy-laden snack while they watch.  When such a thing occurs, the message that student receives from their teacher is that their classmates’ enjoyment is more important than they are.  At such times, the student will struggle with feeling of self-worth and the [correct] impression that their teacher doesn’t know how to handle food allergies.

 

Eating Outside of Class:  Prepare for field trips by remembering food allergic students.  Snacks and lunches need to be safe.  And, don’t forget to bring emergency medication (and store it with a chaperone AT ROOM TEMPERATURE).  The best way to keep these special learning experiences special is with advanced preparation and by communicating with parents and the students directly to address concerns and implement solutions.

 

Think through the full school day for an allergic student.  How will they fare on the bus ride home?  What is the school’s policy on eating on the bus?  Is it enforced?  Is the bus driver trained and prepared to deal with an allergic reaction?  Is an allergic student allowed to carry their own epinephrine?  How does the driver handle bullying on his/her bus?  Addressing the entire school day from door to door will make a child with food allergies feel protected and looked after.

 

NYT Bullying Headline Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 12.08.15 PM

Bullying by Peers or Adults:  Exclusion, name-calling or verbally doubting sets an example for the other students that such behavior is acceptable and results in stigmatizing the food allergic student. Bullying is another serious problem for all students but can have serious and even deadly results for students with food allergies.  Read the statistics here to understand the scope of the problem which is often based at school.

 

Uninformed Teachers:  Students with food allergies are savvy about their condition and quickly note when others aren’t as knowledgable.  Teachers who demonstrate a lack of knowledge do not instill confidence in even the youngest food allergic child.  Students who are concerned about surviving the day in their classroom, cannot learn.  Creating “safe zones” is psychologically beneficial to students with food allergies.  One such example is a peanut-free table or a classroom that bans a certain food for the health and protection of a student’s life. Another method is to establish a special line of communication between the teacher and student so they can express their concerns privately.  I recommend that teachers meet with a food allergic student and their parents to acknowledge that they understand the parameters of that child’s allergy, that they take it seriously, and agree upon the best method of letting parents know about upcoming events so that the family can prepare.

 

Solid and Protected Food Allergy Policies:  Schools must create a safe environment for students with life threatening food allergies. This protection begins with a comprehensive food allergy policy – one that balances safety with an emphasis on maximum inclusion.  The policy and procedures regarding food allergies need to be widely communicated, easily accessible, consistently applied and protected.

[Read: Food Allergy Policies at School (Aug. 14, 2018) – Considerations and Perspectives for more on what goes into a well thought-out policy.]

 


 

Inclusion means everything to food allergic students who already feel different from their peers.  Inclusion gives students a supportive platform from which to conquer the world.  Schools need safe places for kids to learn, socialize and play.   They are more than a place to grow academically; schools should be a space for students to blossom psychologically as well.  A lot of thought should go into how to include every child in the classroom – it might make all the difference for your students AND their families.

 

 

 

Food Allergy Policies at School – Considerations and Perspective August 14, 2018

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As the school year beings for some and approaches for others, now is an excellent time to reflect on the food allergy policies and procedures at your school. As research and information about best practices emerge, schools should know that small changes can have a big impact.  Camps may also wish to track these same kind of policy shifts to keep campers safe while in their care next summer.

 

Why do schools need a food allergy policy?

 

Schools must create a safe environment for students with life threatening food allergies. Administrators should begin by creating a comprehensive food allergy policy for the entire school or school district.  Policies may vary from school to school depending on their experiences and limitations.  In fact, allergists are hesitant to suggest blanket recommendations for that reason.  Whatever each school decides, the policy and procedures set regarding food allergies need to be

1.  widely communicated;

2.  easily accessible; and

3.  consistently applied and protected.

These policies serve as a baseline for food allergic families to make decisions about additional measures they may need to take in order to keep their child safe.

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Where do schools begin and what factors should they consider in regards to their food allergy policies and procedures?  

When formulating food allergy policies and procedures, schools should consider some of the following factors:

  1.  Age of students and their cognitive and physical development:  Schools may have different policies for students of different ages.  For example, elementary schools may forbid a child from carrying his/her own epinephrine auto-injector while a middle and high school may allow that.
  2. Common risks facing the age group of their students:  Are the students allowed to share food without permission?  What are the school’s thoughts on classroom parties and celebrations? Do your students commonly face peer pressure or bullying? Are they allowed to snack/eat independently (away from a cafeteria or not during a traditional lunch time)?
  3. Stock/unassigned epinephrine: In many states, schools are either required or allowed to keep unassigned (or stock) epinephrine on-hand in case of an anaphylactic reaction.  That means that if a student, staff, or faculty member has a reaction and does not already have epinephrine prescribed to them and stored at school, the unassigned epinephrine may be used.  Consider whether your school should carry this useful medication and who should be in charge of administering it.
  4. Nursing schedule and availability:  Does your school have a full-time nurse?  How many students is he or she responsible for looking after?
  5. How and where to store epinephrine: Is the nurse’s office centrally located or would it be wise to store epinephrine with a trained administrator closer to a lunchroom or classrooms?
  6. Hand washing: Hand sanitizer does not remove the proteins that can cause a food allergic reaction.  Only a scrub with soap and water can do that. Are the students required to wash hands at any point in the day?
  7. Communication with parents:  This piece may not make it into policy, but it should be discussed.  Advanced communication with parents regarding upcoming class parties, school celebrations involving food, field trips, and other food-related events allows parents and teachers to make appropriate accommodations to keep their food allergic student safe.
  8. The classroom versus the lunchroom: How will food allergy policies differ by location within the school?  Rules in the classroom regarding food may be very different from rules in the cafeteria.  Who will be responsible in which location?
  9. Field trips: Each school should consider who is responsible for carrying and administering epinephrine when students are away from school.  Go over a plan should someone have a severe allergic reaction.  Be reminded that epinephrine must be kept at room temperature, so if you are spending time outside in hot or cold weather, epinephrine will need to be temperature controlled.  Communicate this plan to teachers and parents so that everyone is on the same page.
  10. Faculty and staff education:  Faculty and staff should be educated and RE-educated about food allergies each year.  They must learn to recognize the signs of severe allergic reactions (called anaphylaxis) and what those symptoms might sound like in the words of a young child.  [See The Language of Food Allergies for the symptoms and language students may use to describe an allergic reaction.]  They need to learn how to respond to an allergic reaction.  Understanding the basics of cross-contamination and ingredient label reading, among other lessons, will help protect food allergic students in their classrooms.

 

Food allergies are often misunderstood.  Not only can they cause severe allergic reactions that can be fatal, but they cause a great amount of time, preparation, and anxiety for students and parents alike.  This anxiety can hamper a student’s ability to learn. Therefore, it is imperative that schools make every effort to provide a safe environment for learning both academically and socially.  With two students in every classroom suffering from food allergies, it is critically important that schools consider how they can best prepare families and teachers to protect these students.

 

Armed with Words: Teens and Food Allergies October 25, 2017

Ah… the teenage years!  Although my son is only 12 now, I can feel them coming on and am seeing a preview of the food allergy challenges we’ll be facing for the foreseeable future.

 

Teens and young adults with food allergies are at the greatest risk of having a reaction.  Risk taking behavior is all part of the teenage brain.  And when hormone changes, the desire to fit in and peer pressure are combined with food allergies, innocent situations can turn deadly.

 

Studies show that preadolescents and teens – who typically do not want to draw attention to themselves – shy away from mentioning their food allergies and often intentionally leave their emergency medication at home.

 

What can parents do?  Continue talking to your teen about his or her food allergies and the new situations they face.  Play out various scenarios and involve them in the problem solving.  Importantly, arm them with the language to use to avoid putting themselves at risk.  If we can give them some ways to deal with their food allergies in a smooth, off-handed manner, they may be more likely to self-advocate, speaking up when it matters.

 

Share your child’s go-to lines and we’ll include them below.

 

Practice these.  Make them your own: deliver the lines with humor, sarcasm, be nonchalant or matter-of-fact.  However you decide,  just speak up!

 

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Situation:  (Friends are at a restaurant/cafeteria/movie theater hanging out)  Mmm… Try some.  It’s so good and I think it’s nut-free.  Here have some!

Straightforward Reply:  That does look good.  But, I’m allergic to nuts.  I’d love to try it if it’s safe- is there an ingredient list?

Alternative Reply:  That’s a great looking [brownie, cookie, dumpling…etc].  I think I’m going to pass.  But, thanks for offering!
These approaches work because they alert your friends that you have an allergy and simply can’t eat things that aren’t safe.  But if they are persistent:

Situation Progresses:  Come on!  Have one little bite!!!

Reply: (Distract)  No chance.  But have you tried the donuts [or insert food – either at the location or elsewhere]?  They’re insane!

Reply:  A little bite can make me really sick.  I’d rather hang at this party/football game/movie than head to the hospital.  I’m good!

 

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Situation:  Your teen is worried about bringing his/her epinephrine auto-injectors out with their friends.

Reply:  Hey guys, I have my auto-injectors in this bag just in case anything happens.  Do you want to drop your phone or sweatshirt in here too?  Might as well fill it up!

Solution:  Carry two Auvi-Qs!  Each Auvi-Q is about the size of a deck of cards and can fit in most pockets.  You DO need to carry two – if necessary, place them in a jacket pocket.  And, let a trusted friend know they are there.

 

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Situation:  You’re at a restaurant/food court/concession stand with your friends. You need to ask several food allergy-related questions, but you’re embarrassed.

Reply: (to friends) I have to ask the manager a few questions.  I’ll be right back.
In this scenario, you can ask questions about ingredients without drawing attention to yourself.  Don’t miss the chance to eat safely and without worry or you’ll miss having fun with your friends!

Reply:  (Before you order… to your friends)  Hey, guys.  I’m going to need to ask a bunch of food allergy questions.  Do you want to order first?

OR:

Reply: (Before you order… to your friends)   Hey, guys.  I’m going to need to ask a bunch of food allergy questions.  Just keep talking so I don’t get nervous.  (Jokingly) You know I have stage fright!

 

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Situation:  You’re at your friend’s house.  Your friend’s mom offers to get you “something to eat.”  “I’ll grab you guys a snack!” she says, with no further description.

Reply:  I have a food allergy.  Do you have a piece of fruit I could eat?

OR:

Reply:  I have food allergies.  If you don’t mind, can I read some ingredient labels to see what’s safe for me?

OR:

Reply:  Thank you for offering, but I have a food allergy.   I’m okay for now.
OR:
I brought my own snack – all I need is a bowl/spoon/fork!

Parents love kids who take charge of themselves and are forthcoming with important information.  Telling an adult on-site that you have a food allergy gives you another layer of protection – a second set of eyes and someone to help if you feel you’re having a reaction.

Situation: A boy/girl you’ve been eyeing just asked you to go out for ice cream – but you have concerns about your food allergies at ice cream shops.  

Solution:  Find a coffee shop or restaurant with a similar fun feel that you know is safe and suggest you go there to hang out.

Solution:  Try an activity-based date.  Bowling, mini-golf, watching your school’s football game, seeing a band play, etc are sure to bring the fun without too much worry about food.

Reply:  I’m actually allergic to dairy/nuts/peanuts.  Would you mind if we tried this new frozen yogurt shop?  I’ve been dying to try their sorbet flavors!
Mentioning your allergies right away isn’t a deal breaker; it’s a way to ensure that you’ll feel relaxed on your date.  And when you’re more relaxed, you’re more likely to have fun!

 

‘Tis the Season: 504 Plans April 15, 2016

 

Fall and the start of school seem far away – I mean, who can think about going back to school when summer is just around the corner?!  That said, many of you are now sitting in front of a pile of forms thinking about 504 Plans for your children for next fall.

 

504 refer to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These plans are set in place to provide accommodations to school age children with disabilities (food allergies are listed among the qualifiers) to ensure that they are afforded equal access to learning and academic success as their peers.

 

These plans are created in collaboration with your child’s school and spell out food allergy management.  In addition to a Food Allergy Action Plan, 504 Plans can cover a broad range of topics such as snacks and meals, storage of emergency medication, addresses classroom issues related to food allergies such as science projects and other manipulatives, as well as hand washing policies.

 

Many people, including school administrators, get 504 Plans confused with IEPs.  An IEP is an Individual Education Plan which allows students with disabilities (often learning or cognitive disabilities) to receive specialized instruction and/or related services.  IEP qualification is determined both at meetings and in conjunction with standardized assessments, as well as other data collection.  504 Plans are determined by looking at medical records. Both are federally funded programs: 504 Plans guarantee access to education while IEPs provide supplemental academic services.

 

I recently came across an incredibly thorough and helpful article written by Vivian Stock-Hendel on fellow blogger, Sharon Wong’s blog “Nut Free Wok.”  Entitled, Food Allergy 101: 1, 2, 3…504 , you will learn everything you need to know about completing a 504 Plan and what to do if you need both a 504 and IEP.

 

Keep in mind, both plans can be used at schools which receive federal funding.  If your child attends private school, ask someone in administration if the school makes food allergy accommodations through 504 Plans or by another means.

 

Best of luck!

 

Additional Resources:

FARE: Advocacy – Section 504 and Written Management Plans

Food Allergy Action Plan Template

 

Food Allergy Education: Allergy and Asthma Today Spring 2016 March 8, 2016

 

As you all know, I strongly support the need for food allergy education in school.  The non-profit Allergy and Asthma Network (AANMA) recently picked up one of my articles on the subject for their publication, “Asthma and Allergy Today.”

asthma allergy today spring 2016

Here’s a link to my article in their Spring 2016 issue:  Thank You For Being a Friend.

 

Or, read it below. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!  Comment below, on our Facebook page, or email me: erin@allergystrong.com:

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on:
  • What your school is doing right;
  • Any issues you or your child has faced as a result of insufficient food allergy information/education;
  • Suggestions you have for schools/teachers to create a safer, more inclusive school environment;
  • General comments.

Thank you as always for your support!

 

Thank You For Being a Friend
published in Allergy & Asthma Today – Spring 2016
By Erin Malawer

 

Walking through the halls of an elementary school, you might see inspirational bulletin boards, posters promoting “School Spirit Week,” perhaps a donation box for clothes or backpacks.

 

You would not expect to see a whole walnut rolling around on the floor. That’s what some students at my son’s elementary school found recently. At first they didn’t even know what it was.

 

One of the students bent down to inspect it. “Hey,” he yelled to my 10-year- old son, who is allergic to tree nuts. “Come over here. Is this a walnut?”

Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away, explaining that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector. A classmate, a girl also diagnosed with food allergies, stepped in to remind everyone about my son’s allergies. Soon after, the kids began to file into their classroom. Somehow the nut followed them.

 

My son’s deskmate grabbed the walnut and teased him with it, waving the walnut close to his face saying, “Oooooh … A walnut.”

 

My son began to speak up – we had practiced for these types of situations at home. The same girl quickly interjected, “Are you crazy? He’s ALLERGIC to nuts! He could go to the hospital!”

 

My son wasn’t harmed. But he WAS upset when I picked him up from the bus.

 

“Mom,” he said, “I know I seem really tough – like my feelings are as thick as a wall. But inside, they can be as thin as paper.”

 

We discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to have said, how thankful he was to have a friend like the girl who stood up for him. He felt sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or lack of education, rather than malice.

 

This incident was innocent enough. The first boy was curious; the second boy truly didn’t understand the potential consequences of his actions. He thought my son would join in on the joke because they are friends.

 

I asked the school if I could come into the classroom to teach the kids about food allergies – and they agreed. The students were attentive and engaged, and had intelligent questions. They were very sympathetic to how difficult it is to manage food allergies.

 

Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of allergic reactions.

 

In the end, the incident brought my son and his classmates closer together. Looking back, it’s very easy to imagine a different outcome. But as my husband rightly points out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing and be supportive. Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how.”

 

Statistically, there are two students in every classroom with food allergies.  But that number is growing.  We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately. And we need to teach them to be supportive of each other.  A lesson in food allergies is a lesson in empathy – and it just might save a life.

 

If your school doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, I encourage you to volunteer your time to do it yourself.

 

 

 
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