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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Kids with Food Allergies? Best Learning Tool Out There - Letting Them Advocate for Themselves in the Classroom

What a fabulous end to another school year!  I actively included my kids in preparing classes during Food Allergy Awareness Week 2017 for almost 100 kids, ages 11 to 14.  My 11 year old and a friend, both anaphylactic to peanuts, helped present 'how to correctly use auto injectors' to all of their classmates.  My 13 year old helped prep questions for a game to wrap our 9 years of food allergy classes with her classmates.

Two kids transitioning to very different points in their lives.  Half of these kids are moving on to junior high, and the other half are moving on to high school.  Yes, as a food allergy mom my main focus is creating a safer world for ALL of our kids with life threatening food allergies.  But it’s also about creating a more accepting world for ALL teens living with any life threatening food allergy.  These are tough years for many kids and being different isn’t always so easy.

S.A.F.E. Autoinjector Presentation

The 5th grade presentation was simple.  First, another episode of Allergy Adventures.  As this group begins navigating more freedom from their parents, I thought it important we focused on the proper use of autoinjectors.  My daughter presented the same class when she was in 5th grade.  My youngest is still allergic to 6 of the top 8 allergens including anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree nuts.   I find my worries now gravitating from ‘will others know what to do’ to ‘will my kids do what needs to be done or speak up when they need to’.  As our family transitions to a period where NOT being different and fitting in can be so important, my internal fears escalate. 

What to present to a group of 8th graders heading off to high school next year?  These young adults have had allergy awareness classes since kindergarten.  They began watching Alexander, the Elephant Who Can't Eat Peanuts, Gets a BabySitter in kindergarten and had a blast with our So Delicious Taste Testing last year.  Heading off to high school, I wanted this LAST class to be impactful.  So what to focus on?  Dating and kissing, of course.  I wanted them to realize that WHAT they eat can have a life threatening impact on someone else.   

S.A.F.E. Presentation - Food Allergies and Dating

Along with the Principal, we shared some personal and serious discussion.  I shared how I, as a mom, made a mistake ending with my son in the hospital.  Then I showed the following video from Anaphylaxis Canada, First Kiss PSA.  We discussed the struggle of being different, and how some students with food allergies may be embarrassed to share this difference.  I asked that they help these individuals by sharing their continued tolerance and compassion.  We then wrapped it up with a fun team ‘speed review’ of many topics we’ve discussed over the years.  I will so miss this group, but I don't know a group of young adults better prepared to help those with food allergies than this group of advocates! 

And every year during Food Allergy Awareness Week, I like to share some allergy friendly ideas with all of the students and teachers.  Thanks to the following allergy-friendly companies who are so supportive of my efforts for making allergy education just a bit more fun! SunButterWOWBUTTER and Gimbals Fine Candies 
Food Allergy Awareness Week Supporters
When our kids are infants, we are so afraid OTHERS will make a mistake.  I am here to tell you, APPRECIATE THIS TIME, BECAUSE YOU STILL HAVE MUCH MORE CONTROL THAN YOU REALIZE. 

You can talk and educate teachers, friends and family.  You can offer presentations, read stories and engage others.  You can have your kids actively help educate their friends.  You make sure your auto-injectors at school and at home are up to date.  You provide ‘SAFE’ snack lists to schools, parents and sports teams families.  And you take extra SAFE snacks wherever you go. 

Then.. our kids begin to grow up.  They want autonomy.  And, YOUR fears shift.  No longer focused on others… but on your child’s ability to take care of themselves. 

So, my words of advice to you are to involve them and teach them to embrace their differences. Encourage them to become their own advocates, as soon as they can.  They may teaching their friends to save a life, and who knows, it may NOT be theirs! 

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