Celiac disease (CD) is a condition in which the immune system reacts to the ingestion of the protein gluten. In the United States, approximately 1 in every 133, or at total of 2 million people, have celiac disease; that includes children. Left untreated CD can cause permanent damage in the GI tract so it is important that parents know how to deal with their child’s condition appropriately. Completely avoiding gluten is the only treatment for CD.
Your best advocate for your child’s health when they have celiac disease is usually the school nurse. The nurse can work up a medical plan that outlines the problem as well as what to do for any symptoms (for example, if you have medications to give for diarrhea and want to keep them at school). Most of the papers will need to be filled out and signed by your child’s physician prior to the school nurse providing treatment.
In addition to treatment, the school nurse is normally responsible for making sure that all of your child’s teachers are aware of your child’s restrictions. You can always research the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation if you think the teachers require more information.
Most people are aware that they will have to avoid certain foods that contain gluten, like whole wheat bread or crackers made with wheat flour, for example. But if you notice that your child is coming home from school with new symptoms, such as diarrhea, decreased appetite, stomachache, or bloating even though you are sure they are not ingesting gluten through anything you are sending them with, it might be time to take a closer look around the classroom. It is possible that there are gluten-laden snacks on hand or contaminating your child’s gluten-free food.
Another issue that many people forget to mention to their child’s teachers is that there are many classroom activities that can lead to exposure to gluten. These can include play dough, finger paints, and even stickers. It is extremely important as a parent to monitor what your child will be exposed to at school or day care. For example, Hasbro’s regular Play-Doh is made with wheat flour. Brands have popped up like: Gluten-Free Wonder Dough, Soy-Yer Dough and Max’s Mud to use instead. You can also find tons of gluten-free recipes online or on Pinterest.
It can take educating the teacher with your own history and information as well as the help of the school nurse to insure that your child is not inadvertently exposed to gluten in any of the day’s activities. Most teachers are very receptive to learning about a child’s illness and doing what they can to keep the child healthy and happy at school. If you find that this is not the case, you may need to speak with the administrator for the 504 plan program. This insures that your child will have legal protections for their illness and things like missed days or classroom accommodations.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.