Monday, August 1, 2011

Starting School with Food Allergies

Every year when school is starting I feel a little panicky about Sophie's food allergies. I have found that taking these steps aids in a smooth transition for her and eases my worries about potential contact with her allergens.

I start by meeting with the teacher immediately prior to school starting to talk about Sophie's allergies, find out about food in the classroom, and come up with a plan for her. Some classes have snack and some don't at our school (it's based on when the kids have lunch), so our needs have varied from year to year. The lunchroom has food allergy protocols in place, although we modified those slightly for Sophie, and they stay the same year to year.

Our school offers a peanut-free table for kids with peanut allergies. Sophie and I decided it is not necessary for her to sit there, because she is allergic to so many other things and because peanuts are not her most volatile allergen. Instead, she sits at the regular table. She has a placemat in her lunchbox which she puts on the table before she gets out her food. The tables are wiped with bleach solution between classes, so this is more to mark her area than a concern about the cleanliness of the table. She keeps her food on her placemat and asks her friends to keep theirs off. It has been successful except for one time when a child purposely put a cookie on Sophie's placemat. It was treated as a bullying incident (which it was) and has not happened again.

Class parties
At first I felt like I had to plan and attend every class party, unless another allergy mom was doing it. Last year (3rd grade) I was able to let Sophie be at a party on her own. I was in contact with the mom who was planning, and she is someone I trust. Additionally, Sophie and I went over the menu ahead of time and made a plan for what she would be eating at the party (it was a breakfast). It went well, but requires a significant amount of responsibility to be placed on the child. You will want to slowly allow your child to take more and more responsibility for his/her food over time and work up to attending a party unsupervised.

Birthday treats
Sophie has a box of her own birthday treat in the classroom so that whenever a treat is brought in she can have something that's safe for her. This year, since she has outgrown another allergy and is getting really good at reading labels, if the birthday treat is something that she recognizes as being safe, then she eats it. I have mixed feelings about this--I actually REALLY don't like it--but I think it is the normal progression of things and ultimately, I think it is healthy for her to show this independence, and she is still in a controlled environment with adults who have been trained to recognize a reaction and treat it.

Educating the staff
A face to face conversation, including Epipen training and discussion of your child's particular pattern of reaction as well as general symptoms of anaphylaxis, seems to be the best education for staff. In addition to meeting face to face with the classroom teacher, I met face to face with the principal and asst. principal and I emailed information to all of the Specials (art, music, etc) teachers. You might want to meet face to face with each teacher. I asked to be informed if food was going to be used in a classroom activity, science project, etc. and made sure that everyone knew not to give Sophie any food. My guidelines and expectations have relaxed a little as Sophie is taking more and more responsibility for her own food.

A few other things: for snacks you can have a snack box from which your child can get a snack. You must educate your child about their allergies. We live by these rules when it comes to food allergies:
    Do not ever eat unless you have access to your Benadryl and Epipen.
    Say no to adults if they try to give you food that you're not sure about.
    Save something to be checked at home rather than eating it at school without reading
         the label.

When Sophie was younger, we also were very strict about this one:
    Do not eat anything unless it has been checked by mom or dad.

And the Epipen rule--no food without an Epipen--is still our gold standard.

1 comment:

  1. Our #1 rule..."do NOT feed my child".
    We have our own safe foods available. My kids know to only eat their foods.
    School is a tough one.
    We still do the peanut free table, even though they are also allergic to milk, eggs etc...I personally, like the "room" at the of tables. Not so crowded and crazy :)