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August 27, 2005

Food Allergy School Jitters

It’s back to school with food allergies. As parents of children with food allergies, the back to school jitters are a bit different! The following are some things I’ve found to be helpful in the whole process.

I always contact our school the week before school begins. I explain that my daughter has a potentially life-threatening food allergy and that I need to meet with both the school nurse and her teacher before the first day of school. I allow the school staff to set up the meeting because I know that they are so busy getting ready. I want them to know I respect their time and I try to keep the meeting to about 20 minutes. Showing respect for the staff’s time really helps the relationship and their willingness to go the “extra mile” for my daughter.

This is what I bring with me to my first meeting with the teacher - in addition to my daughter:

• Written outline of the meeting. (I am a very visual person and this helps me cover everything I want to and based on feedback, it helps the teachers too.)

• Written medical forms completed and signed by my allergist allowing the Epi-pen to be available and administered when needed.

• Many copies of a one-page flyer we created with our daughter’s picture, her allergies, signs of a reaction and very simple instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.

• Two Epi-pens each labeled separately with a sticker from the pharmacy. One is in a Ziplock baggie with a picture of my daughter to be hung by the classroom door and the other is for the nurse’s office (which is adjacent to the front office and close to the eating area).

• An Epi-pen trainer. Also, a few expired Epi-pens and an orange for the teacher and/or nurse to practice with.

• A snack bag, which is a Ziplock baggie with my daughter’s name clearly marked, filled with non-perishable favorite treats.

• Videos for staff and/or children. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network has great videos available for teaching. There is one for children titled Alexander, the Elephant Who Couldn’t Eat Peanuts. They also have videos available for older children and teachers. I definitely recommend checking these out!

• Other books or written material. The book No Nuts for Me is excellent! It’s my favorite book written for kids about food allergies and Epi-pens. You can find an interactive version on line at Food Allergy Initiative.

• Within the first month of school, I also give the teacher, nurse, head lunch aid and anybody else who has done extra to create a safe environment a small token of my appreciation (i.e., flowers, note cards, Starbucks gift cards).

This list is yet again revised based on my back-to-school experience this year. This approach has worked so well for me. If you have comments or other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you! Food allergy management is an ongoing learning process for me and I welcome input from other parents. I am always eager to learn something new that might make the road a bit smoother for everyone!

Posted by Ann Marie at 4:12 PM

August 25, 2005

Are my kids "normal"? Please don't do that to your child.

Ok, sometimes I see articles on child food allergies and think, "this is great, more public exposure to the issue is a good thing." Then I read further and see things like this...

"It does take extra planing and work, but result is she can go and live like a normal person."


This article when on to say how the school was helpful in managing her child’s food allergy but when parent complained too much about the rigidity of the plan, they moved the child to a private school.

I think sometimes us parents of a kid with a food allergy simply screw it up for ourselves. If we go in like a bull in a china shop and make demands on schools and other parents (most of whom will never quite “get it”), then bad things happen. The worst thing that can happen is our child is no longer viewed as “normal”. Things like banning a food from the school or even the classroom can backfire and give you a false sense of security.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for parents whose child with a food allergy are entering school for the first time… don’t be one of those over-the-edge parents (like we once were). Find a parent (or 2 or 3) in the school whose child has been there for several years. Find out what works and what doesn’t in terms of communication and implementation of the food allergy management plan. You can also email us anytime, we’re glad to help.

Posted by David at 9:35 AM

August 21, 2005

School Food Allergy Program Materials

How about some more information on child food allergies at school? A guide titled "School Food Allergy Program" is available at www.foodallergy.org. This is a multimedia program implemented across the nation and is designed to help parents and school staff develop a management plan for child food allergies in school.

This free child food allergy program includes a video, a food allergy awareness poster, and examples of model school programs to manage food allergies in schools. Visit their web site for more information.

We are firm believers that any information you can get to help manage child food allergies at school is welcome input. Just as with other parenting advice or guides, you need to determine what precautions you are comfortable with and implement what works for you (and your school nurse, of course).

Posted by David at 9:19 AM

August 16, 2005

Back to school with food allergies

Hi. I can’t believe it is already time to start thinking about back-to-school things. If you’re a parent of a child with food allergies, you know I don’t mean thinking “do they have enough clothes for the fall” or “I wonder if they’ll make new friends this year.” It’s that feeling of needing to educate all those adults responsible for your child’s safety when it comes to food allergy.

I must say, so far, this is my easiest school year yet. Over the years, I have developed a pretty good system. Since my oldest daughter is going into 4th grade, I am used to the elementary school and the staff at the school is used to me. I am reasonable in my requests, thinking of both my child’s safety and the fact that the school also has hundreds of other kids (and their parents) to deal with.

Here is my approach (in a very small nutshell). I first established a relationship with the school’s nurse and principal. I am levelheaded and direct in my approach. Since my child has nut and peanut allergies, Epi-pens need to be readily accessible. My daughter eats snacks and treats only out of her snack bag which is filled with favorites from home and kept in her classroom. We request no nut snacks or projects be brought into her classroom. All lunch staff (along with nurses, aides, teachers, office staff, etc.) are trained in the emergency use of the Epi-pen. There is a flyer hanging in multiple locations with my daughter’s picture, description of her allergy and action to be taken in case of an emergency. Things have gone well in the past. I don’t have time for all the details now. I’ve had so much positive feedback that I want to share it with everyone and anyone who could benefit. I’ll be sharing more details in the near future!

Posted by Ann Marie at 9:02 AM

August 9, 2005

Teens with food allergies

What is it like to have a teenager with a food allergy? Actually, I have no idea. My oldest isn’t even out of elementary school yet! I just read an article in the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network newsletter entitled What Were You Thinking? (Vol. 14 No. 6) It’s for parents of teenagers with food allergies and is really well-written. It says that “studies have shown that teens with a food allergy are the highest risk group for experiencing a severe or fatal allergic reaction.” Great! No wonder I get butterflies when I think too much about the future. The article explains why teenagers engage in risky behavior and what parents can do to help their child or potentially make matters worse, specifically related to food allergies. For instance, a teenager needs to think about (or worse, ask) what their date ate before they can have a good night kiss. Wow. How do you encourage your teen to do this without being embarrassed?

It seems like a really good starting point in this whole parenting-a-teenager-with-food-allergies thing. I know I’ll be saving it to re-read in a few years. I sometimes feel very frightened if I think too far into the future but then I remember I have built a good support network, including FAAN. Most importantly, I am working hard on keeping my communication open with my children and learning all I can about food allergies. I would recommend reading the article and welcome your comments and suggestions.

Posted by Ann Marie at 9:07 PM

August 5, 2005

Kudos to Ener-G Foods!

I just had a great customer experience and wanted to share it with those who may benefit. Among other foods, my daughter is allergic to wheat and tree nuts. Somedays it feels so overwhelming to me that I cry. I'm thinking about her starting kindergarten in a few weeks and I just want to be able to make her a sandwich for lunch! The one wheat-free bread that she actually likes recently changed their packaging to include "processed on the same equipment as tree nuts." Get the tissue box!

Ener-G foods sells a wide variety of gluten, wheat and dairy-free products. I've ordered crackers from them in the past, which are actually pretty good. Even my daughters who aren't allergic to wheat ask for them. I called for their help, still trying to make that sandwich! The woman in customer service was awesome! She not only recommended several breads that most kids like, she offered to ship me samples for free. No way!

The samples came to the house today. I now have four neatly packaged possibilties on which to make sanwiches! I know I can't give them to Kristine all at once, but the wait is killing me! I'm so anxious to find out which one she likes. There's still time to order a loaf before school starts! : )

For anyone looking for wheat-free products, I strongly recommend Ener-G Foods. They are good at labeling other allergens as well, in case you have to pay attention to multiple food allergies like me.

I hope this helps all of you who may be searching for that perfect sandwich!

Posted by Ann Marie at 3:26 PM | Comments (1)