A recent study published this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concludes "that the term "epidemic" can correctly be applied to anaphylaxis, as it is to asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema."
If we are experiencing an epidemic of anaphylaxis and other allergic disease, it seems reasonable to me that schools implement policies and procedures to protect students at risk. These accommodations can cause quite a stir among parents. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School revealed in a column this week in the British Medical Journal, that he believes the responses from some schools bear the hallmarks of "epidemic hysteria."
While we know that safety can never be guaranteed, allergy parents do a delicate balancing act every day of considering their children's safety with their need to participate in "normal" activities.
From my view, most parents do a very good job of advocating for their food allergic children while gradually teaching their children to take over this important task.
While I have seen parents who seem to overdo it at times, I have also seen parents who are at the opposite end of the spectrum, they're much too lax. I've known parents who've had their children treated in emergency rooms for anaphylaxis, but still do not carry epinephrine for them. Over the past few years, I have come to know several parents who have lost children to anaphylaxis. Most have said that they underestimated the risk.
I believe the same is true for schools. For every school that responds with a "gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat," you will find at least one on the other side that is not responding to the needs of students with food allergies at all.
Sadly, a serious or fatal anaphylactic reaction within a district often motivates them to implement a food allergy policy. There is no uniformity and there will always be policies that seem extreme for some.
I think what's helpful is for both sides to come to the table with a little compassion. Non-allergy parents may have to bring food with labels to holiday celebrations and may be asked to keep the classroom free of certain allergens. Is that really too much to ask for a child's social, emotional and physical health?
Allergy parents might want to keep in mind that food is not the enemy and people are not selfish or wrong if they choose to eat peanut butter or nuts. If we have good policies and procedures in place, I believe that schools can and should be able to accommodate all children.
Regarding the studies mentioned in the article, we obviously have much to learn from the promising research on early introduction of foods. Hopefully, we'll get more answers in the months and years to come. Until then, we have to protect millions of children who have food allergies today.
Thanks to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, children with severe food allergies have a right to a "free and appropriate" public education. Although I do not support school-wide bans on specific foods, a safe and uncontaminated classroom would be at the top of my list for these children.
I hope that other allergy parents will not be discouraged from seeking reasonable accommodations for their children, whatever they may be. I for one would go to the loading dock 1,000 times for any of your kids!
Published On: December 17, 2008