Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

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.

 

 

A Look Ahead: A Summary of Teens and Food Allergies December 3, 2015

I have a food allergic 10 year old.  I’m starting to see all those signs of tweeny-ness that my friends have been talking about.  And, although I could use a lot less eye rolling and smart alecky retorts, but I understand this is a (questionably) necessary right of passage into his more independent teen years.

Do you all remember being a teenager?  How many ill thought out decisions did you make?  My oldest child will be a teen before I know it and he’ll be faced with choices of his own.  The only way he’ll grow is to make mistakes, I know.  But when food allergies are a part of your life, small mistakes could be costly.

So, even if you don’t have a teen YET, please read on so as your kid ages you know what to look out for:

According to an article posted on Radio Canada International [Severe Allergy Risk Worse Among Teens, Young Adults], there are several issues at play during the teenage years that put them at greater risk for a severe food allergy reaction:

  1. They believe they are invincible.  Having had the minutia of their lives cushioned by their parents, teachers, etc up until these years, they feel they are unstoppable.
  2. They typically feel a strong need to conform to their peer group.  Admitting to a food allergy, needing to ask multiple and sometimes persistent questions at meals, not to mention carrying often bulky epinephrine doesn’t make them invisible.  If anything, it highlights their “differentness.”
  3. Teens are independent creatures.  They may balk against whatever makes them feel limited.

According to Dr. Scott Sicherer of Mt. Sinai in practical terms this means:

  • They fail to tell their peers about their condition.
  • They don’t want to/don’t know how to speak up to authority figures (such as teachers, waiters, etc) and alert them of their food allergies and dietary limitations.
  • Teens often leave their emergency medication at home – particularly when active and/or wearing something fashionable that leaves little room for autoinjectors.
  • They taste foods to see if it might contain an allergen, rather than reading labels.  My guess is that it may be harder for teens to reject an invitation to taste something “amazing” or even terrible, particularly if it means that behavior allows them to better fit in with their social circle.

The Radio Canada article goes on to quote Dr. Adella Atkinson, who offers a few helpful suggestions:

  • Start the conversation about food allergies early.  Without scaring them, very young children should be aware that some foods can make them sick.  Empowering young children will enable them to more confidently handle their food allergies as they age.
  • Provide choices.  [I thought this was the best suggestion I’ve heard in a while.  I can’t wait to implement it this weekend!]  Decisions about who and which kind of epinephrine autoinjector to carry, what kind of cuisine they’d like to eat, what their food plan is for outings without you will again empower them and force them to think through their food allergy roadblocks before they hit them.
  • In the WebMD article, Teens With Food Allergies Take Risks, Dr. Sicherer goes on to suggest educating friends as a secondary safety net.  This has already served us well [See That’s What Friends Are For] as my son’s friends help look out for him, are careful to make eating a more INCLUSIVE rather than exclusive experience, avoid eating my son’s allergen around him, and have been taught how to use epinephrine autoinjectors.
  • Teach your child’s friends how to use an autoinjector.  This is a great use of old EpiPens and Auvi-Qs and tweens and teens find it interesting.  By now, they’ve usually seen autoinjectors before and have loads of excellent questions.  Practice using autoinjectors by injecting them into an orange or grapefruit.
  • Buy/create several different accessories to help your tween or teen wear her epinephrine in all circumstances.  A dress with no pockets?  No problem!  Going skiing? We’ve got your covered.  School dance?  Don’t worry: there’s a way to wear it there too!  [See Your Growing Child: How to Carry Epinephrine]

But the most important thing you can do is keep up the conversation.  Not only are food allergies dangerous, they are stressful.  Keep talking to your tween and teen about them.  Make sure they know the door is wide open to discuss anything that comes up surrounding them.  And, present them with the big picture:  that you might want to fit in during your teens but you want to stand out in your twenties.  Encourage them to get a head start by being careful and responsible with their health!

 

Food Allergy Education: Allergy Shmallergy’s 4th Grade Lesson Plan May 9, 2015

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I received so many requests from you asking for the lesson plan I followed for my recent talk with my son’s fourth grade class (see Thank You For Being a Friend – The Need for Food Allergy Education in Elementary School) that I kicked it into high gear and began writing it up right away!

In previous years, I had followed a simplified plan accompanied by a food allergy-related book (see the list of books I’ve used/reviewed here).  This year, however, I noticed a shift in maturity amongst the kids and decided to capitalize on it and upgrade my lesson plan.

I will tell you in advance, the response to this talk was amazing!  The kids were fully engaged, respectful of each others ideas and questions, and clearly connected with the topic.

A few tips to begin:  Everyone has a different level of comfortability when discussing personal health issues.  Although it is tempting to talk about personal experience or ask pointed questions to kids who you know have food allergies, I would resist this urge.  I try very hard to speak about food allergies from a neutral perspective and not single out my own son, for example.  That said, if the kids chime in for themselves (as they did when I spoke to their class) all the better.

Mentally allot a couple of minutes for kids to tell you everyone they know who is allergic to everything you can name.  It’s going to happen.  It engages the kids right away and lets them be heard.

This lesson plan should take about 30 minutes but with discussion and an optional snack you could easily fill 45 minutes.

Have fun in the classroom!

DOWLOAD LESSON PLAN BELOW:

Allergy Shmallergy – 4th Grade Food Allergy Lesson Plan

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Thank You For Being a Friend – The Need for Food Allergy Education in Elementary School April 29, 2015

So we had a food allergy incident a couple of months ago.

There was a whole walnut rolling around the hall in my son’s school.  This, I can assure you, is a real anomaly.  So much so, that the kids didn’t know what it was. Having rolled underfoot, one of my son’s classmates bent down to inspect it.  “Hey!” he yelled to my tree nut allergic son, “come over here.  Is this a walnut?”

Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away about to explain that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector when his friend, a food allergic girl in his class, stepped in to remind everyone that my son has an allergy to tree nuts.

The kids began to file into the classroom and 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, “Ooooo….a walnut.”  My son began to speak up, as practiced, when the same girl started yelling, “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’re like this [holding his palms facing one another, nearly touching]… they can be as thin as paper.”

We talked it through thoroughly: we discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to say, how thankful he was for a good friend like that awesome girl.  And, he was sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or miseducation rather than malice. The head of the school spoke to his grade and I came into his classroom to teach the kids about food allergies.  Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of possible reactions.  Their regret was evident as was their interest in food allergy education (which I will discuss in a separate post).

This incident was innocent.  The first boy was curious.  The second was teasing, but truly didn’t understand the possible consequences of his actions.  In fact, he thought my son would join in the joke.  They were friends.  They’re all still friends.

I went into their class the following week and spoke about food allergies in general.  The students were attentive and engaged.  They had intelligent questions.  They were amazed at and very sympathetic about how complicated their food allergic classmates’ lives could be.  Interestingly, I think this incident brought my son and his classmates closer together.

While this is an example of a lack of education with no physical harm, it would have been very easy to imagine a similar case with a different outcome.  As my husband rightly pointed out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing.  Kind WANT to be supportive.  Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how to do so.”  Statistically, there are two kids in every classroom with food allergies.  We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately.  And we need to teach all of our kids not only how to support their friends with food allergies, but how to support and look after each other in general.

— If your school (like ours) doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, volunteer your time to do it yourself.  I’ll post my 4th grade lesson plan shortly. Feel free to contact me should you need more information. —

 

The Peanut-Free Table October 17, 2012

I’m so proud of our school and so grateful to the head of our Lower School who is conscious of and working towards improving the emotional well-being of our food allergic students.

 

I have mixed feelings about the Peanut-Free Table at elementary schools.  While I appreciate that it helps teachers and administrators keep food allergic kids safe during lunchtime, I am concerned that it may exacerbate social issues that those kids already face.

 

Kids with food allergies already know what it’s like to feel excluded.  They are excluded all the time.  From the food at most in-class parties, from dessert at restaurants, treats at birthday parties, team celebrations, holidays, from the concession stand at the movies… the list could go on and on.

 

In the meantime, I had approached the head of our elementary school last year to discuss an idea I had.  After reading, The Peanut-Free Cafe, it occurred to me that we too could create a fun, desirable environment for our food allergic kids to enjoy.  They shouldn’t feel excluded from their class/friends’ tables.  We needed to create a space where food allergic kids could feel enthusiastic to eat!

 

The head happily agreed this was an idea we could work on!  Our school recently rebuilt its cafeteria and included an area, right near the beautiful wall-to-wall windows, where our school’s new “Peanut-Free Cafe” would go.  It is a space that, by year’s end, will be filled with the kids’ own artwork;  where they can invite their friends to join them.  And, where my son is excited to sit!