August 13, 2010

Having difficulty contacting your child's teacher?

Parents who have dealt with their child's food allergies during the back-to-school frenzy may know all too well the feeling of being lost in the shuffle. During the weeks before school starts, teachers are incredibly busy readying their classrooms, attending meetings, and getting everything in order. The office staff is busy fielding questions about everything from what time school starts to parents wanting to change their child's teacher. It is little surprise that trying to contact the appropriate staff to discuss your child's food allergies can prove to be a daunting task.

With food allergies being so prevalent among children and with its awareness at an all time high, hopefully most schools have at least a generic food allergy management plan in place. Even so, most parents will want to speak with their child's teacher before the first day of school, just to review their child's specific needs.

It's definitely easier when your child is a returning student. It can still be difficult though to contact your child's teacher and arrange a meeting before the first day of school. One way to effectively contact the teacher without spending hours at the school waiting to see her in person, is to leave a note with the office staff. Ask to make sure your child's teacher receives your note as soon as possible (this is where your reputation comes into play, hopefully from previous encounters the school knows you as a friendly, reasonable parent who is easy to work with).

I keep the note short and simple, and I hand write it on a colorful piece of paper (more likely to catch their attention).

I write something like:

Hi. My child, Mary Smith, is in your 3rd grade class this year. Mary is allergic to tree nuts and eggs for which she has an Epi-Pen available. I would like to meet with you briefly before the first day of school to go over Mary's allergies.

Please call me on my cell phone so we can set up a meeting time.

Ann Marie
(cell phone #)

I find that if you are respectful of their time, most teachers will call you back promptly. And if you know your child's teacher, it never hurts to add that you'd be happy to bring them a Starbuck's. : )

Posted by Ann Marie at 8:17 AM | Comments (1)

October 5, 2008

A letter to a room parent

I'm sure as parents with children who have food allergies, we come across people that are very sincere at trying to make our lives a little bit easier. The room mom in my daughter's class this year is such a person. She is going all out to make sure my daughter doesn't feel left out of class activities and treats. Our way of dealing with food allergies at school is that my daughter only eats baked goods from our house, even if a parent offers to make the treat allergy free. I only have so many ways of saying no thank you and at the same time trying to express my appreciation of the offer.

I recently sent this email to my daughter's class room parent, who has been really trying to make it so my daughter can share in the celebrations. It's so important to express gratitude for those people on our side, especially if we want them to keep helping us!

Hi. I will send Kristine with some of her own pumpkin bread and something else instead of pie. The applesauce should be fine, if it's just the apples and cinnamon and sugar all mashed together.
Also, I want you to know how much I appreciate you thinking of her food allergies. And I don't want you to think that it's your responsibility to take care of figuring out the foods she can eat. I would never put that on you, heck, sometimes it's hard enough for ME to figure out what she can eat! :-) hee hee

You are an awesome room parent! Thanks for all you're doing. Our class is lucky!!

Ann Marie

Posted by Ann Marie at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2008

Epi-Pens and School Field Trips

Since I know I will not be able to go on every field trip during the school year, I’ve started doing something which I find valuable as my child gets older. Our school has a form which authorizes the student to carry medication and/or self medicate while at school. Although my child is too young to give herself the Epi-Pen, I have the physician complete the form anyway. This allows my daughter to carry her Epi-Pens from home to school on field trip days. It serves several purposes. First, the teacher doesn’t have to remember to bring along the Epi-Pens from school; which conveniently guarantees that the teacher will not forget to replace the Epi-Pens in the classroom after the field trip. I also know that my child will for sure have two Epi-Pens available in case of an emergency, and I don't have to rely on the teacher to remember to bring both Epi-Pens from school (since one is in the classroom and the other is in the office). It also frees me up from having to meet the teacher the morning of the field trip to hand over the Epi-Pens. If I was available that morning, I would probably be going on the field trip!!

Those of you with small children are probably thinking that I’m nuts. It’s true; to me this works well only as my child gets older. I would not trust a younger child to carry Epi-Pens without adult supervision. I trust my own child because she’s grown up with the Epi-Pen and understands that it is not a toy. I don’t however trust all of the other kids. Also, the older my child gets, the more parents I get to know in her classes. That means there is usually at least one parent going on the field trip whom I’ve already educated about food allergies. So I feel comfortable sending in the Epi-Pen without meeting the parent face to face. Also, since the teacher obviously goes along on the outing, there are at least two people who could respond in case of an emergency.

This works well for us and minimizes my stress over school field trips. It also stops my urge of calling my child in sick the morning of the field trip because it's just easier than figuring out the flow of the day! I'm sure we've all been there... : )

Posted by Ann Marie at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2008

Back to School Tip for Children with Food Allergies

Hi. As summer continues to fly by, those of us who are parents of children with food allergies start to think about the upcoming school year. The ideas of Epi-Pens, snack bags, field trips and class parties find their way into our thoughts. Sometimes we feel excitement when we think of a new year and a fresh start, but other times we are filled with trepidation. Who will the teacher be, will they be educated about food allergies, will they accept the management plan we are comfortable with or will they try to alter it, do they routinely use food in their classroom, will I feel confident leaving my child with this person all day? I could of course go on and on!

I’d like to share a food allergy tip that has helped me plan ahead over the years. I schedule an appointment for my child to see her allergist every summer. I bring with me all of the school paperwork for the upcoming year for the physician to sign. This takes planning ahead, so before the school year is over, I collect all of the forms I need for the following year. I’ve been burned too many times waiting for the allergist's office to mail me the completed forms. It’s also a big load off knowing that I have all of the necessary paperwork completed and in my hands. This way, the forms are available for me to give to the school nurse during our meeting before the first day of school. It helps minimize any delay in setting up a safe environment for my daughter. As an added bonus, the school staff perceives me as an organized and supportive parent (which is so important to the success of the food allergy management plan!!).

More tips to follow...

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:45 PM | Comments (0)

February 9, 2008

Valentine's Day lunch exchange

I have more thoughts for keeping our food allergic children safe during Valentine's Day celebrations. One way our teachers have made the day special is by having a secret lunch exchange. Each child fills out a "Favorites for lunch" menu, including a main dish, fruit/veggie, snack (chips, crackers), one small dessert and a drink. And yes, there is a space that asks for food allergies. The kids then secretly draw names. Each child is asked to bring in a lunch prepared with the suggestions from the favorites sheet. The lunches come in homemade, decorated boxes or fancy bags to make it more fun. The kids reveal who their secret lunch person was during lunchtime the day of the party.

The first time I read about this "assignment," I freaked out a bit. We ended up having the teacher draw my child's name so I could provide the lunch. My now sixth grader informs me that she thought it wasn't fair that the teachers always drew her name. So we came up with a better idea. My daughters now put their "Favorites for Lunch" in the drawing with all of the other kids. I write in the space provided for allergies that my daughter has multiple food allergies and I would like the parent to call me (I list my phone number). I tell the parent that I will provide my daughter's lunch in a plain brown paper sack. The teacher can put the brown bag inside the box or bag the child has decorated. Since most of the parents remember the letter about my daughter's allergies from the beginning of the year, they are more than happy to help in this way. And over the years, the other kids end up putting a small, non edible treat in the bag too, as an extra surprise.

I write down my daughter's favorites that she handed in (so I remember what she wrote), then I secretly pack her lunch the morning of the exchange. I staple the brown bag closed and decorate it with a few stickers. I staple it so she knows that what's inside came from our house. I find this is the best way to keep it both a surprise and safe! I'd be paranoid that a child would drop a few pieces of candy in the bag because they felt bad for my daughter. And since my daughter didn't help pack the lunch, she might think that the candy came from home. So if she sees the bag stapled shut in the morning, and it looks the same way at lunch, then she can eat the food without worries.

I set it up with the teacher that she puts my daughter's lunch bag inside the decorated box form the child who drew her name. That way she still gets to participate in the fun of guessing who had her name and the other child still has the chance to decorate a bag.

It works out well and has taken away the stress and worry.

Posted by Ann Marie at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

February 7, 2008

Pencil grams for school Valentine's Day celebrations

As parents of children with food allergies, doesn't it feel like there is always a party or event at school that involves food? Valentine's Day is no different. At our elementary school, there have been a couple of fun ways to celebrate the day that seem manageable to those of us concerned with food allergies. Our school used to offer candy grams, where kids could pay 25 cents to send their friend a written note with a little piece of candy. I used to dread these, knowing full well that I had no control over what candy would be given to my child. With an increased awareness of food allergies, and health of children in general, our school now offers pencil grams. So the kids can still send their friends notes, but now, instead of a piece of candy, the note comes attached to a Valentine's Day pencil.

Here's how it works: the Student Council sets up tables during recess and lunch the week before Valentine's Day. They have small pieces of paper xeroxed with space for the child's name, teacher's name and a special message. Kids can purchase one pencil gram for 25 cents. They then write their friend a note in the space provided. The Student Council then organizes the pencil grams by class, attaches each note to a pencil and on Valentine's Day, distributes the pencil grams to the appropriate classes.

We also encourage parents to send their child a pencil gram so that all kids get to share in the fun of the event. Everyone has fun and there is no food involved!!!

Posted by Ann Marie at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 5, 2008

Valentine's Day Tips

While browsing the web for kids with food allergies, I found a well-written to do list for your child's school Valentine's Day party. In a nut shell, it recommends that you attend the party, bring your child's treat, communicate with the teacher and even other parents about the food allergy and afterwards, make sure you thank those who helped keep your child safe.

As my kids get older, I don't feel the need to attend every school party anymore. I of course still plan ahead and take all the same precautions. I like to foster my child's independence in a relatively controlled environment; that is, with a teacher who is very aware of the allergies and has been managing them at school all year. I figure as my kids get older and go off to junior high and high school, they will need to know how to handle their own allergies. So practicing in elementary school makes sense.

For my second grader with food allergies, I send in a treat bag with popular but safe Valentine's Day candy (so she feels like she can eat the same candies as the other kids). I also find out what the main treat will be (usually a cookie or cupcake), and I send in something similar. If the kids will be doing their own decorating, I send my daughter in with frosting (and a plastic knife or spoon to spread it with), sprinkles and candies of her own. She knows not to eat anything else at the party, and when she gets home, we go through the candy and treats together. I usually have a small stash of treats she really likes, so I have something to give her when she trades in unsafe candy.

As for my sixth grader, she is totally independent at school now. I usually make her favorite treat (brownies) for her to bring to school. For Valentine's Day, I also give her some candy hearts since that's a popular candy. Then she makes her own decisions at the party. If there is a treat that has ingredients, she'll read them and determine if it's safe to eat. She never eats homemade or bakery treats because that's been drilled into her head since before she could talk!

This works well for our family and we no longer feel stressed out when it is party time at school!

Posted by Ann Marie at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2008

Going to Sixth Grade Camp with Food Allergies

It is amazing for me think that I am the same parent who sent my daughter to both preschool and sixth grade camp. Times have certainly changed for the better. Dealing with her allergies (including the potential of anaphylaxis from peanuts) ten years ago meant having to explain that a peanut allergy is more than a stuffy nose and a rash. Now, at least more people are aware that a peanut allergy means, “Oh, I better listen because I know this is important somehow.” We have always tended to err on the safer side of things, because it is what we felt comfortable with.

For years now I’ve been listening to stories of sixth grade camp. Most parents respond with worries of will their child pack the right things, or how will their child do sleeping over in an unfamiliar place, or how will their sixth grader make it through a whole week without any contact from home? “Can they please take their cell phone in case they need to call home?” But, for those of you also dealing with your child’s food allergies, you know what was going through my mind: how will my daughter make it through the week without an allergic reaction? Will she get enough to eat, or will she be scared and just not eat at all?

Sending her off into an unfamiliar environment was challenging. I wanted so much to foster her independence and not be the overbearing parent. I figured this was one of those landmark moments of how well we did as parents raising our child with the right balance of understanding and comfort with food allergy management. She’s been reading ingredients for as long as she knew that letters formed words. I think peanut and egg ranked in the top five of first words she learned read. She was ready for the challenge, even though I wasn’t quite ready to let go.

I can say with a great deal of confidence that the week was an absolute success!! I felt comfortable with the food allergy management plan we established before she left. The camp nurse conveyed confidence with our plan, enough to put me at ease. But most importantly, my sixth grader was confident enough with the plan we laid out, that she was able to worry about things like which clothes to pack and if she could be quick enough to make the time-limit of the two minute shower!!

I have learned a lot over the past ten years. I know how important it is to be level headed and open-minded when developing a food allergy management plan. It is crucial to convey concern without using "life threatening allergy" language or other alarm ringers. Yes, it is life threatening, I know that as much as anyone. But it’s all in the way you approach it. And the more aware the public becomes of food allergies, the easier it is for us to safely manage them.

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2007

Child Food Allergy Preliminary School Study Results

There was a preliminary study presented by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) addressing the challenges in administering epinepherine to a food allergic child suffering an anaphylactic reaction. Although the study did show an increase in students with food allergies who carry epinephrine, some of the findings are concerning.

Apparently, despite some laws passed, many school principals in MI are unaware of a law allowing children with food allergies to carry EpiPens in school. In fact, more than 1/3 of principals surveyed did not know about it. To make things worse, most schools keep the epinepherine injectors in the front office. So what happens if a food allergic child has an anaphylactic reaction in the classroom or lunchroom? "RUN, FOREST, RUN!"

All kidding aside, c'mon parents! Step up and investigate your own school situation. Don't be statisfied with "front office" solutions. You hope your child will eat his safe lunch and not get exposed to peanuts, milk, or eggs (pick your poison) at the lunch table but don't take the risk. Your schools lunch staff needs to be trained and know where to find the epeinepherine in case of a food allergy reaction.

We parents need to go out to schools to do the training. If you are a parent of a food allergic child, you know very well that the majority of food allergy fatalities occur outside the home. Most of these could have been avoided by proper use epinephrine.

Maybe its time to visit your school again. Let's call it a mid year check up. ;-)

Posted by David at 3:43 PM

January 4, 2007

Peanut allergy growing concern in schools

source: The Times-Herald

To many youngsters, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich is an all-American part of growing up.

For some of their friends, the same sandwich is potentially deadly. Approximately three million people in the United States have an allergy to peanuts or peanut products, according to Julie Campbell, founder and president of the Illinois Food Allergy Education Association.

Some 12 million Americans have some type of food allergy. Allergies to peanuts are among the most common. "It's one of the most fatal food allergies," according to statistics, Campbell said.

Peanut allergies have the attention of local school officials. Coweta School Superintendent Blake Bass said there are 132 students in the Coweta County School System who are allergic to peanuts or peanut products.

"We are working with each one of them," he said.

"Allergies to peanuts can be very serious — and to other things, too," said Smith Pass, a longtime school board member who has served as chairman of the board's safety committee. Pass said the system got an e-mail from a parent thanking the local schools for their efforts on behalf of students with peanut allergies.

Sally Millians, who directs the school nurse program, "is working with these schools and with these students and parents," Bass said.

The process includes educating other students about the dangers, involving parents and teachers in working on plans for dealing with any problem and sending a letter to all parents in the school.

"We're asking that they not send peanut products to school, but if they do, to make sure they're labeled," Bass said.

"We've gone as far as making sure there's a peanut-free zone in the school where they can eat their lunch," Bass said. Bass said teachers who have students with such allergies are also trained in using an epinephrine pen which can be used in an emergency.


Posted by David at 7:42 AM

September 26, 2006

What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor? (and other field trip questions)

We've just returned from a 5th grade field trip and managed the food allergy issues without a problem. We went up to Dana Point, CA and stayed overnight on the Brig Pilgrim. The Pilgrim is a full size replica of the hide brig immortalized by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his American seafaring classic novel Two Years Before the Mast. The ship is a national award-winning living history program to over 16,000 students a year. The kids were the crew and were in the hands of the actors playing Captain and a hard-edged First Mate. Having attended many a field trip, this one is head and shoulders above the others.

What was the key to our success in making this a safe trip for our daughter? Communication and education (that usually does the trick).

My wife started early in the process with a quick email note to the teacher just giving him a heads-up that we'd like to speak with him. It went like this...

----- Original Message -----

From: Ann Marie

To: 5th Grade Teacher

Sent: Wednesday

Subject: Pilgrim Ship

Hi. I would like to talk with you more about the Pilgrim ship and the food served. Our daughter reads ingredients and makes choices about the foods that she can and cannot eat; however, they are the foods that are prepackaged, usually snack foods and cookies. Since I don't understand what the food is or how it is prepared on the Pilgrim, I am a bit apprehensive. My husband, David, would be happy to join you as a parent chaperone. This obviously eliminates our uncertainty because he can go into the galley and speak with the chef directly and read ingredients from the food packages. At back to school night, I saw a long list of parents who would like to join you on this field trip, so I understand you'll need to pare down the list.

Would you please let me know a good time to meet for a few minutes to discuss this? I am available both before and after school.

Thank you very much!
Ann Marie


I think he knew Ann Marie to be a level headed, open minded parent from the first couple weeks of school. Keep in mind that she had already had the one on one meeting to discuss our daughters food allergies and how to keep her safe (including a lesson with an expired Epi-Pen and an orange). Her practical, yet concerned tone came through in her email. Notice she didn't use any "life threatening allergy" language or other alarm ringers.

I was choosen as one of the chaperons for the trip, so first problem solved. We then called the administrator of the program and she said that they had removed all nut ingredients from the meals because of other children that had nut allergies over the years. It's always comforting to know we aren't the first ones bringing the concerns. I was able to speak to the "first mate" on the ship as well as the captain and the cook (aka the doctor, beacause he has all the knives!) :-)

I read the ingredients used in preparing the spice cake and the beef stew (basically salt, meat, potatoes and carrots - nothing fancy for the crew). And, as it turned out, the teacher had assigned me as the parent "Safety Officer" for the Galley Crew (the team of kids preparing all the meals).

The thought of a field trip can be so scary for a parent of a child with a severe food allergy. I felt so greatful for both our teacher and the ships crew. I felt they truly understood our concerns and were clearly doing all they could to keep our daughter safe. I attribute the strong teamwork to an open communication starting from Day 1.

Posted by David at 3:33 PM

September 15, 2006

A Letter to Class Parents About Food Allergies

There is a general sigh of relief for all those parents who have sent their kids off to school. For those of us who have children with food allergies, sometimes the sigh is more of fear than liberation. We all have our own way of preparing the schools and helping them create a safe environment for our children. Over the years, I have learned new things and tweaked my process. Class parties seem to constantly present a challenge. I try to explain my child’s food allergy without seeming too over the top; because then other parents seem to disregard what I say. Below is a letter I recently sent out to my child’s class. It is in a generic form. Feel free to copy it word for word, or change it around a bit to fit your style. I hope this helps.

Dear Parents of Mrs. Smith's class,

My name is Sally and I am Jane Doe's mom. You might have heard from your son or daughter that Jane has food allergies. She is in fact allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (which are the rest of the nuts like walnuts and almonds), and a few other foods. Mrs. Smith has been great in keeping our classroom environment safe for Jane. Jane has a snack bag at school which she can choose a treat from if the class is eating something she cannot have.

In regards to our class parties, we would greatly appreciate it if the treats people bring in do not contain nuts or peanuts (i.e. peanut butter crackers, cookies with nuts, peanut M & M’s). We also have a son with food allergies; and over the years, friends and classmates' parents have offered to make or buy something that is "allergy free." Although we so much appreciate that, we find that the safest thing for Jane is that she just eat the food we bring from home. Truly, if nut-free cookies are baked on the same cookie sheet after a nut-containing or peanut butter cookie was baked, and Jane ate one, that could be enough to set off an allergic reaction. In the same regard, if Jane eats Oreos at one party and a parent brings a package of Oreos to the next party, the ingredients could have changed without a warning statement to contain an ingredient to which Jane is allergic. This is why I hesitate to give a list of "safe" treats, because we never know when ingredients might change. To avoid accidental exposure to an allergen, I will either send in a treat for Jane that is similar to what everybody else is eating, or she can simply choose something from her snack bag.

I will most likely be in contact with the parent in charge of a party to see what's on the menu. That way I can decide party by party what will work for Jane. And please do not feel sorry for Jane. It has always been her way of life, and it is something she accepts (most of the time with a smile on her face!).

Thank you all very much for your understanding. I am very approachable if you have questions or concerns. I check email frequently, (insert email address here) or you can call me at home, (123) 456-7890.

Thanks again,
Sally Doe

Posted by Ann Marie at 8:51 AM

September 7, 2006

Who Do You Trust With Your Child's Food Allergy?

My 10 year old daughter is scheduled for an overnight field trip later this month. She's looking forward to staying on a large sailing ship and experiencing it the way the original settlers did.

Part of that experience is eating what they used to eat as well... mush and the likes. All sounds fun except when you have serious food allergies.

Now, here's the deal - normally, I would simply volunteer to chaparone on the trip and also contact the "galley" crew ahead of time to make sure food is safe for her. In this case, there are twice as many parent volunteers as needed. Why should I get preferential treatment? Easy, my child has a condition that requires extra safe measures. Not that easy....

The school nurse is a parent of a child in that class as well. She is the one "on call" all day long at the elementary school, so it would stand to reason that she should be able to keep my child safe away from school too, right? Hmm. I'm not so sure.

A field trip situation is very different from on the school grounds. At school, we packed her lunch, we spoke with her teachers, we spoke with the Principal and the lunch supervisors. Each of these people has a one page flyer that continuously reminds him/her about my daughters allergies. On a field trip, there is a kitchen preparing her foods and no adult trained on talking to waiters, the manager or the chef. The ship's crew knows nothing of my daughter's allergy (yet) and who knows how often they deal with this. Is "cross contamination" part of the galley speak?

So, I volunteered to join the class, sent an email to the teacher and will have a follow up conversation with him. At this point, I am inclined to say, either Dad goes or daughter misses the trip. Which would be a shame, however, I will error on the side of keeping her safe. Who knows, maybe they will allow her to bring a packed meal? Sure, everyone else gets mush while my daughter gets a ham sandwich, some chips and a nice piece of fruit.

I say, "Let them eat mush!" :-)

Posted by David at 9:30 AM

February 3, 2006

Is YOUR school nurse prepared?

I read a disturbing article awhile back about a student who suffered a severe peanut allergy reaction. The student smelled peanuts while he was eating lunch at school and later reported to the nurse’s office when he started to have trouble breathing.

The student began reacting after lunch and went to see the school nurse, who was aware of his peanut allergy. The nurse gave the student ibuprofen and released him.

When the reaction continued to worsen, he returned to the office and said he really needed something stronger. He reported that he couldn't breath and his face was flush. The school nurse eventually administered a shot of adrenaline.

Ibuprofen? Why would that be administered in this situation? Look folks, it sure doesn't sound like this school and the nurse were well prepared to handle a food allergy reaction. As far as I know, Ibuprofen is simply NOT used to aid in situations where someone is having difficulty breathing. Wrong solution.

It is our responsibility as parents to make sure that school staff are clear on what the procedure is in case of a food allergy related emergency. This story highlights the need to reinforcement training as well. Don't think the discussions you had with the school nurse back in August are still fresh in her mind.

Let this be a reminder to all of us... continuing education is the key to keeping our food allergic kids safe.

Posted by David at 8:27 AM | Comments (1)

December 9, 2005

Confusion at school causes reaction - "Scrape it off"

A local ABC news report described an unusally scarey situtation - a child's reaction due to a peanut allergy. The scarey part wasn't the reaction itself, it was the communication with the school.

The attack came on after she ate part of a sandwich that had contained peanut butter. She says the school cafeteria worker told her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was her only choice.

Sky Hamilton, Student: "I said 'I'm allergic to it' and she said to scrape it off with a spoon."

Scrape it off with a spoon? Please tell me that didn't really happen!

A spokesperson for the department of education says no one at the school told Sky to simply scrape peanut butter off the sandwich before giving it to her and furthermore, that no one at the school knew that Sky was allergic to peanuts.

The school didn't know? In this day and age, how could that be?

But Sky's mother showed us medical documents with a list of foods her daughter cannot eat. She says the school had a copy of the list.

Jessica Hamilton, Parent: "I've given them print outs of all her allergic reactions. There are statements in the lunch room with all the children's allergic reactions. She number one because she has multiple food allergies."

Ok, now that sounds better. But wait... if the school did have the documents and multiple kids have allergies at the school, how could this happen? Add to that the fact that its December - the kids have been in school for months!

There must be some huge lessons in the details of this story. It sounds like Ms. Hamilton gave the school the information (it was on the wall) but clearly there is a serious miscommunication with the school staff. Maybe a mid-year refresher course for the school is in order? Also, we parents have to accept the fact that we are adding risk by having our children buy lunch from the school lunch room. Packing our own lunches is a safer way to go.

Posted by David at 7:28 AM

September 6, 2005

Social Time with Child Food Allergies

Should I be worried about my child's food allergies because this Friday is the annual Ice Cream Social at our elementary school? As I thought about this year's event, I realized that my feelings were very different from years past. Let me explain...

For those of us with children who have food allergies, few places strike more fear than the ice cream shop. Thinking about all the toppings - nuts, M&M's, toffee and the likes - and the possiblity of cross contamination can make a parent shutter. We simply have never done the ice cream shop with our kids... its "off limits for people with food allergies" is our policy.

So, image our concern when our first kindergartner received a flyer announcing the event of the year, the Ice Cream Social. Believe me, this is a big deal to kids and parents alike. (There was a time in my life when an Ice Cream Social couldn't have been less important... ah, parenthood!) Anyway, our daughter wanted to go and be part of the excitement and who were we to put the "pooh-pooh" on the fun? Oh no, we were going in loaded for bear (so to speak).

Now, after a few years of these events (and other fun events like them), we simply shift into self-resource mode. We pack our cooler with ice and ice cream cups, fudge-cicles (spelling?) and other tasty frozen treats. We don't make a big deal about packing our own and now our kids simply know that is the routine. We find often that our kids are viewed as "lucky" because they get the special treat (because they, unlike their friends, get to pick exactly what they want to eat that night.) Membership has its privledges.

So, if you are a new-to-school with food allergies parent, relax. It does get better and, in fact, you will no longer sweat the small stuff. You will learn to be prepared and it feels great.

Posted by David at 7:51 PM

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 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