Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Start school with food allergies

 Dash-1 heads off to the wild world of elementary school on Thursday as he starts Kindergarten.

{cue those angels to sing}

I'm in a bit of disbelief that I have a kiddo old enough to be in school now.  All day.  Yeah that's right I said all day.  See why I said the angels can sing? There were some parents looking a little teary eyed at orientation yesterday.  I'll miss the little darling and its certainly going to be quiet around here but it's not like I'm not going to pick him up every day so its all about perspective people. 

But it's also a little scary.  And not just cause my baby is growing up but because he has food allergies.  The severe, throat closing up, gasping for air kind.

In case you weren't aware, he's allergic to eggs and peanuts.  "No big deal that's so normal these days", I hear that a lot from parents.  And it is, but, as a parent, its still a terrifiying nightmare.

I've really noticed the difference as dash-2 starts nursery school.  For him it was just here's the registration form, here's the check, here's the kid.  Have fun! No long winded explanation, no double and triple checking food policies, where epi pens are kept, who's trained, all that kinda stuff.  For dash-1 I had a giant bag of medical stuff to take with me to orientation yesterday, medicine, forms, nebulizer parts {because like most kids with servere food allergies, he also has asthma}.

Light years simpler for the kid without the allergies.  And siginficantly less stress.

So for those of you who may have food allergy kids starting school in a year or two here are some tips.  Though I should preface this by saying I'm hardly an expert, the main thing I have going for me is 4 years experience dealing with food allergies and keeping my kid alive.


Stop by the nurses office! Stop by and give them a head up about your child's allergies.  Unless you live in a bubble of a community this wont be the first allergy they've seen.  Ask them what information they are going to need for the beginning of the year.  What forms need to be filled out, where are the epi pens stored, who is trained, what's response time, is there a special peanut free table, how is snack handled, any other questions you might have.

I stopped by before I met with our Allergist so that I would be prepared at our appointment to get all the info filled out and so that I could get her opinion as to where she wanted the epi pens stored, did they need to be in the classroom or would the nurses office do? Did he need to be at the peanut free table? It was nice to be able to get those questions answered during an appointment rather than playing phone tag.  

Talk with your AllergistGet a Food Allergy Plan IN WRITING! Most school districts will give you their own plan to be filled out, I also recommend getting one from your doctor to give to the school in conjunction to theirs.  Our Allergist's form had more info about what a reaction would look like and more information is always better.

Make sure the school has numerous ways to get a hold of you and that you have the most up to date info for emergency contacts and give them a heads up.  If epi-pens need to be used then emergency services will be called.  This means if the school can't reach you, they will be calling your emergency contact.  Being military we don't live near family, our contacts are neighbors and friends, while they knows the boys and they know her I wanted our main contact to understand about Dash-1's allergy.

Get everything together a couple weeks before school so that you have enough time to get a hold of doctors should you need something else.  I started putting medical supplies and forms in a big bag way up on top of our china cabnet where they would be out of reach but also out of the way and not used. As I got medicine filled for school I just tossed it up there.

Put the epi pens in a zip up case Not only is this for convenience sake, dash-1 needs to have 2 epi pens so this keeps them together, but it gives me a little holder to put information in

What info is in there? All of my contact information, his doctor's contact info, all of the medicine that he is currently on, all of his medical conditions, and what he is allergic too.  My thinking is that should EMS be called and I'm not there they have the information that they may need. 

Label everything.  I learned the importance last year when dash-1's epi pens were stolen from pre-k, yeah that's right I said stolen from pre-k {read the whole long story here} the stolen epi pens were first identified as dash-1's because for some random reason I decided to write his name both on the holder and the actual epi pen.  Now I label everything.

I ordered some very cute labels from here so that they would be clear and easy to read.  Life saving medicine is not where you want letters to be mis-read.The nebulizer hose that I sent in, labeled.  The inhaler? Labeled {both the medicine canister and the little puffer}  

EVERYTHING is LABELED!

Try to meet the teacher before the first day.  I had hoped to meet with him before orientation but well it just didn't happen like I had hoped.  Personally speaking I don't think orientation or meet the teacher day is the time to talk about food allergies.  "Hi nice to meet you by the way don't feed my kids peanuts you'll kill him.  Have a great year!"  A bit much.

Let the teacher know what your kids allergies are and the severity, but also what that severity means.  People who don't deal with food allergies can sometimes be confused by that.  Let them know what your expectations are but also that you are more than willing to do whatever it takes to make their job and your kids experience as easy as possible.

In our school the kindergarteners eat a group snack.  A food allergy parents nightmare.  Obviously I'll be providing dash-1 with his snack except on the days where I provide for the whole class, so if that means picking up extra days so he can eat snack more often with other people so be it.

I'm also going to supply the teacher with a couple of cookies from Divvies to keep in the classroom these come prepackaged so they have a great shelf life and are perfect for the unexpected treat from another parent.

Whether it's checking out the brand of soap {check for those almond oils!}, answering a question, or providing a snack or whatnot, let the teacher know that you are always willing to do what is needed. Trade email addresses as now days that's the easiest way to get a hold of people, especially if your school is like ours and has a phone system from hell.

If you do go to an orientation or something before hand and your kid is going to be sitting at a peanut free table away from his class ask if there are other kids who will be sitting there as well. There was one other litle boy in Dash-1's class and when I introduced them and told them they would be sitting together at a "really cool table" both boys got excited and thankfully, to my relief, hit it off right away.

If you have the time make up some allergy free goodies to take into your kids teacher.  I've noticed that when I tell people about the egg allergy and offer to make snacks I get a weird sort of "oh sweet Jesus I'm not eating some wackadoodle healthy egg free cookie or cupcake."  In fact I got that look yesterday.

So while it may seem like sucking up, I'm making up some goodeis to take into the school on the first day for the teachers and nurse to try out.  Divvies has a great cookbook with amazingly yummy recipes that taste fantastic and are egg, peanut, tree nut and milk free.  Milk free fudge that is smack your mama good. I mean it, I made a test batch and gained 5 lbs. Really.

And here is a little something for everyone else.  If you have an allergy kid in your child's class, please try to put yourself in that parent's shoes.  

Yesterday when the teacher announced that there were some food allergies in the class I did catch two parents rolling their eyes.  Trust me this is no walk in the park for us.  Making cupcakes for EVERY birthday, holiday party, whatever is not a dream for me either, but we are trying to make the safest enviroment for our kids.  Much like other issues, the best thing you can do for an allergy kid and parent is just make the effort to try to understand, that's all we ask.

And please for the love of all that is good, stop sending in treats without running it by the teachers first.  Not only does it mean that they can't give us a heads up but it annoys them.  A lot.

I think that's about everything.  I know this is a long winded post but I hope its helpful to some of you out there.  Sending off an kid to school for the first time can be scary but an allergy adds a whole new dynamic. If you have any tips that I've left out please add them! The more the merrier!

15 comments:

  1. This is an awesome post! Very informative. I don't have kids yet - one on the way - but this post brought up a lot of things that you wouldn't normally think about. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I own a licensed in-home daycare and currently have a child who is allergic to peanuts. The mom is much more lax about than I feel comfortable being (i.e. saying I can give him things that say they have been made in a processing plant that also processes peanuts). I'm scared to try so I don't. He too has an epipen that I keep here. It's definitely been an adjustment and I really don't think that most people understand just how serious allergies can be. Thanks for sharing your info!

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  3. I have loved your blog since I started reading it and, because of you, I'm much more aware in keeping constant communication with O's teachers when I would take snacks in for the class. This year will be different - because of a change in schools - and I won't be able to make treats as much as I have in the past - if at all, but I'm on the alert and ALWAYS question, question, question. It annoyed me when O started at the Y this summer and I had to pack her lunch every day. We have a friend whose kid can't come anywhere close to peanuts/peanut butter. Some kid was teasing one day and touched her arm with a PB sandwich, not believing she was that allergic, and sent her to the ER immediately. So, I inquired about packing PB&J sandwiches for Olivia and PB crackers and such as they are a staple for us. The kid care director told me it wasn't up to them to police what everyone else brought in that if anyone had an allergy they would need to sit somewhere else. Seriously? I was furious b/c if it was my child with the allergy, I would want more attention paid to what was being brought in to keep everyone healthy.

    I appreciate your perspective on it and for helping keep me aware. Unfortunately, not everyone is like me and many won't give a rat's arse about it, but I do. Falls in with that whole "do unto others..." thing.

    Good luck on kindergarten. We start tomorrow.

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  4. I really appreciate this post! I didn't have food allergies, but my sister had severe allergies and ended up carrying an epi pen in high school. We had a close call once, before she carried it, and thankfully we never had to use it.

    I wish the other parents in Dash-1's class could read this post!

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  5. Thank you so much for posting this! I am already starting to worry about sending Little M off to school {not for a while, but still} with her allergies. I think I'm even going to print this out to save when I send her off! I also have a question...you mentioned about the almond oil. Is dash 1 allergic to that too because of his peanut allergy. I don't think Little M has even come in contact with that, but I never once thought about it

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  6. Wow - I actually learned a LOT! I don't even have kids and this was super informative.

    Promise I'm still reading... just not commenting as much because, well, I'm a slacker. BUT I still love your blog!!! :-D

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  7. Nice list of advice. Nice touch bringing treats for the teachers, too.

    My wife also targets her volunteering at activities pertaining to our daughter's exposure to food (party planning, field trips, etc.) She's found the administration welcomes the help, and if they have poor or bad policies it's more due to them not being food allergic parents themselves.

    This summer she suggested changes to the language used in the school's food allergy letter it distributes on the first day of school. In the past this letter had been short and seemed obligatory. This year, since they pretty much adopted all her suggestions, it's quite clear and helpful.

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  8. You are, seriously, the best parent ever. Because you think about all these things. And act on them. You're awesome.

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  9. One of my college roommates had severe nut, legume, egg and poultry allergies. Since then I always ask about food allergies when cooking for others- people with allergies are always appreciative that I've asked and those without are always bewildered. After living with someone with severe allergies, I can't stand when people are blasé about it. I think dash-1 is lucky to have a momma like you!

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  10. I am so glad you posted about this!

    I was in my teacher orientation today (tomorrow is our first "real" day) for a middle school and we went over this extensively. Everyone was given a dummy epi pen to look at, though must of us are CPR & AED certified, but I think the reminders are always good.

    And if you're a parent of a child with severe allergies, don't feel alone! We have specific epi-pens for 40 students (out of 265) and are trying to be very aware of those students who, for example, have allergies so severe that if they smell peanut butter they will need their epi-pen immediately.

    It is definitely a big deal, but any good school system really works hard to make sure every child is safe and happy!

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  11. I'm on the other side of the window. I don't fully understand the panic of a mom with a child with severe allergies.

    But maybe you could answer a question for me. Sidekick-1 is in 5th grade. A child in his class has a peanut allergy, but doesn't sit at his table. He's allowed to bring peanut products to class.

    Sidekick-2 is in 4th grade. A child in her class has a peanut allergy, but doesn't sit at her table. Her classroom is completely peanut free (which means separate lunches for my three students). I asked the teacher today, and she said the allergy was so severe that if the child "smelled" peanuts that he/she would have an allergic reaction. That sounded fishy to me.

    Perhaps you could enlighten me as to the differences between the two classrooms.

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  12. I don't know if I ever told you about this other blog I read, this woman had a child born with severe food allergies, buying his special food was taking over their food budget, so she started clipping coupons, checking store ads, etc. She also talks a lot about her son's food allergies and different things she does, so you might be interested in her blog (she is a Christian so some parts you may want to skip over if your not into reading that) http://www.moneysavingqueen.com/.

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  13. Very good post. The checklist is awesome.

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  14. Just discovered your blog. Really fun to read and quite informative! Please keep up the good work! I will be putting up a link on my blog (www.freedomtoeat.blogspot.com). My daughter just started kindergarten on Monday, and she has a laundry list of food allergies. Pretty nerve wracking, indeed! I also just got sent the Divvies cookbook (to review) and have been trying some of their fab recipes out. Just made the granola bars. The fudge is also on my list.

    Good luck when school starts. Seems like you have it all under control!

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  15. Thanks for giving me a peak into my mama's mind as she was raising me :) I have severe food allergies and had childhood asthma, too.

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