If you haven't done so already, you still have some time to discuss your child's food allergies with your teachers and school administrators with the goal to develop a plan to keep your child safe and included at school. With the last days of summer winding down, you'll want to request a meeting right away. The steps below will give you a general overview and help you prepare for your discussion.
Plan Ahead. It will be helpful if you have a letter from your child's allergist explaining the allergies and any accommodations he or she recommends and some schools require this.
Using the recommendations from your child's allergist, create a Food Allergy Action Plan (FAAP), or Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) to document your child's allergies and how your child needs to be treated for allergic reactions. Most parents include a recent photo of their child on this important document.
Get it in Writing. Find out if your state or school district has a food allergy policy, as that would be a great place to start. If so, you may still need to add other accommodations specific to your child. If your state or district does not have a written policy, you'll want to work with school administrators to create a detailed plan for your child. (Some allergic children qualify for a 504 plan.) Together, you can determine how your child will be accommodated with minimal risk of exposure in a variety of situations and locations throughout the school day and through the year.
A key aspect of this plan, from your point-of-view, should be that there will always be an adult trained in recognizing and treating allergic reactions available to assist your child. The plan should also include detailed placement plans for your child's medication(s), emphasizing that they are available quickly in one or more unlocked locations. You should set reminders for yourself to check expirations dates and be sure to replace medications that expire during the school year.
Let Them Eat Cake. There is often much more food at school than most adults realize. Discuss how your child can be kept safe and included during snack time, lunchtime, birthday celebrations, classroom parties, field trips, assemblies or school wide activities.
Birthday celebrations and holiday parties are meant to be special occasions of fun and festivities but they often don't feel that way to someone who cannot share in the goodies and special treats. My book, "One of the Gang," shows how hard it can be for allergic children when they cannot partake in snacks and treats, and may shed light on this issue for those who don't understand the emotional toll of food allergies.
Think Outside the Box. Some parents like to send in a "safe-snack box" for their child in the event that an unsafe treat is being served to the other students. You can keep safe candies, cookies and a few safe juice boxes there for these occasions. Others feel that this lets teachers off the hook for finding ways to include the child with allergies. You will need to examine your own unique situation though, and determine what's right for your child.
Seek and Ye Shall Find. Ask to review classroom supplies, including materials for Art and Science projects and find out if the teacher will be using any type of food rewards. Especially in Kindergarten and early elementary school, there seems to be an abundance of crafts
involving beans, pasta noodles, and cereals. Also, check pet foods as many contain nuts, seeds or other allergens.
Teach Your Children Well. Even pre-schoolers and kindergarteners can be taught ways to keep themselves safe. Let them know to eat only foods approved by you (or teacher if appropriate) and not to share or trade food with others. Remind your child to report symptoms of a reaction immediately.
Most Likely to Succeed. Saying good-bye to our precious children on the first day of Kindergarten or first grade is hard for all of parents, but when you add in the uncertainty and fear surrounding a diagnosis of food allergies, it can seem overwhelming. As much as we'd all love to, we cannot guarantee our children's safety in any situation. If you've done your homework and have a solid plan in place for your child, you're most likely to succeed in helping your child have a safe and inclusive year at school.
Published On: August 19, 2009