Mom, you’re their advocate!

advocate
By Sarah Piguet

Sending your child off to school can be scary. Sending a child with food allergies and restrictions off to school is downright terrifying. While some moms are focused on trendy outfits and the perfect pencil box, allergy moms are focused on menus, protocols and EpiPens. It’s difficult to recommend a game plan to allergy moms about to embark on the adventure of parenting a school-ager; the spectrum of reactions and ingredients is broad. Nevertheless, a few simple steps can give you the confidence needed to start designing a plan for keeping your little one safe:

Be prepared to tackle the topic at the “meet your teacher” open house before school starts each year. If you aren’t able to attend, write a letter to the new teachers explaining your child’s unique situation and thanking them in advance for their extra effort and vigilance. Don’t forget to include art teachers (think macaroni noodle art and peanut butter covered pine cones).

Advocacy and education are the keys to a smooth transition into the classroom.

Give the teacher an emergency stash of snacks to keep on hand so your kiddo is never without one in a pinch.

Communicate with other parents in your child’s class. If you know when they plan to send in birthday goodies, you can send an allergen-free version along for your own special someone, so no one feels left out of the celebration. If your child’s allergies prevent other kids from bringing in certain foods, consider sending a pretty note home with each classmate thanking them and their parents for understanding.

Practice with your children to demonstrate how they can explain their allergies or intolerance. Kids don’t like to be pitied any more than we do. Prepare responses to statements about how hard it must be. Come up with a short list of awesome foods they CAN eat, which they can use to restore their confidence and reassure their classmates that they eat “normal stuff” too. Teach your child how to read ingredients on their own to identify foods that are and are not safe. This empowerment extends well beyond the classroom.

Understand your rights. Research the difference between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 plan. Both of these plans protect your child at any school that receives federal funding, including many private schools. Eligibility depends on the severity of your child’s unique needs. Allergies – along with other “hidden disabilities” such as asthma and epilepsy – qualify for protection under these laws if the “physical or mental impairment results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities”. Since breathing and the ability to absorb nutrients are both pretty major, they qualify! Some children simply should not ingest the allergen, while others may require separate lunch tables or need the whole class to wash their hands before coming in from lunch. While navigating the social complexities of these accommodations is quite difficult, getting the cooperation of school faculty and staff should not be. Get educated, then talk to your school and district administrators about your choices.

For children with severe allergies, establish before the start of the year what your school’s EpiPen protocols are. Can your child carry an auto-injector with them at all times? Is the classroom teacher allowed to administer it, or does it have to be a nurse? If the latter, is the nurse on campus every day during all open school hours? Define exactly what steps they will and won’t take in the event of an emergency. Don’t wait for the IEP or 504 meetings to have this discussion.

The fear of allergen-laden surfaces and unidentified environmental triggers can be overwhelming to allergy moms. So overwhelming, in fact, that many pursue homeschooling or even avoid calling the school to start the dialogue. Take it from a seasoned mom: advocacy and education are the keys to a smooth transition into the classroom. Awareness of, and respect for, the threat of allergens is greater than it’s ever been. With preparation, grace and gratitude, you can recruit all the players in the education system to join you in the fight to keep your precious little learner safe.

 

Originally posted 10/13/2014

2 Comments

  1. Good tips for allergies. Being a homeschool mom, I don't have to run the gamut of sending a child with food allergies to school, but for the activities my children do outside the home, it's good to keep these in mind!

  2. We relate. So far my child hasn't be relegated to the "peanut free table" so he doesn't feel too excluded… but I feel bad for the kids who are.

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