Above and beyond everything else I have learned, is the understanding that we can all benefit from more knowledge and education about managing food allergies.
I have come to realize that unless allergies are a part of your personal world, they can be quite difficult to understand, especially when one is being asked to make concessions for someone else's child. Although milk is the most common allergy out there, to date, nuts are the most life threatening.
'Keeping nuts out of the classroom' is just one small part of managing food allergies, particularly once children are of preschool or kindergarten age. Every person is different. Some have sensitivities; some have intolerances; while others have systemic reactions, meaning one or more systems in their body will react strongly to an allergen they should be avoiding. This is where the life-threatening aspect can come in, and the worries increase ten fold.
For parents of children with life-threatening allergies, here are some common anxieties:
- Will other adults in charge take his/her allergies seriously?
- Will the adults in charge see my child's allergy as just an intolerance or sensitivity? Do they understand that 'lactose intolerance' is NOT the same as a 'milk allergy'?
- Will the adults understand the difference between a mild vs. serious reaction? An itchy mouth may not mean the need for an epi-pen but multiple systemic reactions just may, ie, itchy mouth, hives, coughing or the obvious, projectile vomiting and/or labored breathing
- Will other adults be too quick to give an epi-pen? It's always better to be safe than sorry, but these kids can be easily traumatized, especially the younger ones
- Will other adults be too slow to give an epi-pen? It's a no-win situation, isn't it?!
- Food exposure in the classroom and the cafeteria; let's NOT forget the computer keyboards, doorknobs and playground equipment, for those whose children are allergic by 'touch'
- The emotional toll of being so different, especially for those who have multiple food allergies
- Will my child be forced to sit at a table alone? Will they be able to participate in classroom activities or can they be included? Will there, again, be ingredients in the activities that they can't touch?
- Will my child be made fun of by his/her classmates? or by his/her classmates' parents?
However, the youngest ones with life-threatening food allergies often don't even realize the gravity of their situation, NOR SHOULD THEY. Truly grasping what a life-threatening allergy is, is an age appropriate concept. The time will come when they understand.
We do not want to raise fearful children who are afraid to go out into the world. Just like most parents, our hope is to raise happy and self-confident human beings. The surprising benefit of having these challenges so early on in their lives, is that I have found a majority of these children to be more compassionate and understanding of other's differences. More so than many adults.
Parents, educators, peers and other classroom parents are all part of the village members who help influence how well our children will or won't be accepted. With your help, we will help these children to successfully be able to take care of themselves.
On behalf of so many parents like myself, THANK YOU.
- Thank you, for your simple kindnesses, such as sending in treats ALL of the children can eat safely. This means a lot to kids who often can't participate in school activities and bake sales because of their allergies.
- Thank you, for being so understanding as to why accomodations have been made to help keep ALL of our children safe in the classroom. We understand the concessions you have to make in possibly not being able to send in your very favorite treats to share!
- Thank you, for your phone calls late at night and early in the morning to let us know you will be sending in something so that we have time to also send in alternatives for our children.
- Thank you, for your compassion in NOT making fun of our children.
May 2012 bring you continued good health, happiness and much goodwill!