Allergies and School: What Every Parent Should Know
by Deanna L. Katona for Bridges4Kids
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As another school year begins, most parents are happy and
relieved; but to some it is a time of worry, sleepless nights
and loads of stress. Being the mother of a child with severe
food allergies can be a nightmare for parents when enrolling
their kids in school. When dealing with an allergic child at
home, you are in charge, and you are responsible. When dealing
with a school there is a whole network of people in contact
with your child each and every day. You have to prepare to let
someone else hold your child's safety in his or her hands. I
can tell you from personal experience this is no easy task.
Many times people that have never had to deal with the reality
of severe allergies tend to think the parent is overreacting.
They just do not understand the seriousness of the situation.
However, there are some things you can do to put your mind at
1. Do It Yourself: Awareness
Don't count on anyone else to do the research or teach those
in contact with your child about your child's problems. Don't
take anything for granted; do research yourself. Be very
thorough and make sure all explanations are easy to understand
that you pass onto others who will care for your child. There
are many agencies that can be helpful getting information to
you. Contact your child's doctor, they are great sources of
information and literature you can copy and take to your
child's school. Put together a folder with articles, symptoms,
medication and how to administer, and include a letter from
your child's doctor stating the child's allergies and what
happens when he or she is exposed to that item. Download
the pdf Action Plan and personalize it for your child -
If your child has a food allergy or any allergy that may
induce anaphylaxis, be sure to provide instructions on how to
give the epinephrine injection. Make sure that you properly
fill out all forms needed for the administration of medicine.
Be thorough when filling out all admission forms. Be sure to
put all of your child's allergies in the proper places on the
Don't count on anyone to remember which child you are
referring to; schools are crowded these days. Put your child's
picture on any necessary information. Have your child wear a
Medalert bracelet or necklace, at least until all staff at
school is familiar with him and know him by sight. I even went
so far as to have a tee shirt made for my son to wear during
the first few weeks of school. On the shirt was the writing
"Please do not feed me eggs, I am very allergic to eggs." It
had a big picture of an egg on the front with the red circle
and line thru it. Now I know this is ok for a kindergarten
child, but there are ways you can make your child known. Have
them wear a small nametag with his name and egg allergy on it.
You can make a small poster for the classroom that describes
food allergies and your child's specific problems. Make it fun
and include a picture of your child. This will also serve as a
reminder for the class and teachers.
2. Information: Provide as much as you can
Be sure to provide all medication that may be needed in an
emergency, it is always better to be prepared than to be sorry
later. Any child with allergies that may cause anaphylaxis
needs to have an Epi Pen handy. In my son's case, he has a
severe allergy to eggs. We provided an injection for his
classroom, also to be taken whenever he goes out of the school
on a field trip, one for the office and one for the cafeteria.
Many people do not understand this drug.
The faster the child receives the injection, the less likely
the reaction will become life threatening. The injection is
only good for 10-12 minutes, which is why you have to call 911
immediately upon an anaphylaxis reaction. Be sure to train
everyone that may use the Epi Pen of symptoms to be sure of
before use, storage of the injector, and to call 911. Do not
forget to request epinephrine be sent in the ambulance incase
another injection is needed. The proper use of the epinephrine
may be the thin line between a life or death reaction. State
this to all concerned and put the emphasis on how serious this
3. Meet With Everyone Involved With Your Child
Before school starts for the year, set up a meeting with all
involved with your child during his school day; the more
people aware of the problem the better. Have a meeting with
them all together and bring any medication, information and
doctors letters. In our meetings we have included the kitchen
staff, principal, teachers and bus drivers. Include
therapists, nurses and aides if applicable to your situation.
If you feel you are not getting the cooperation you want, do
not hesitate to go further. Trust your instincts. If you are
not comfortable with the turn out, go to the Special Education
Director or contact the Children's Allergy Network. The
Children's Allergy Network can help you get results.
Severe food allergies are considered a disability, therefore
if necessary request an IEP. Never let anyone downplay your
child's problems. There have been many children that have had
unnecessary complications and those who have even died because
someone thought the parent was just being overprotective.
Trust your gut. Protect your child.
4. The Cafeteria and Snack Time
Make absolutely sure that your child understands the
consequences of eating the wrong food. Teach them to be alert
as to what they are eating. Tell them it is never silly to ask
questions. They can have an adult read the ingredients to them
if they're too young to read. I always ask the cafeteria aide
to read and then re-read if necessary the ingredients on any
product. Become familiar with all variations of ingredient
Never guess. If no ingredient list is available, AVOID that
product. If in doubt, don't let them eat it. Sometimes even
after my child has the ingredients read to him, he still is
uncomfortable about ingesting that item, I always tell him
that if he isn't sure, do not eat it. Teach the child the
proper substitutes that he/she can eat in place of an item.
Read the menu with your child for that day; discuss the
ingredients of each item, so that they will be prepared before
lunch is served. Most schools provide 2 choices, talk with
your child and pick the appropriate choice. Always be aware of
what is being served that day. Be firm with the kitchen staff
that if a meal substitution is necessary for any given day,
you must be notified before your child eats lunch.
When it comes to the health and well being of your child, you
can never be too safe or too careful. Be aware of the kindness
of others. Children are taught to share practically from
birth. One day someone is going to offer your child a treat or
candy from his or her lunch. Teach your child the proper
response. It is ok to say no, and you can do it without
hurting someone's feelings. Peer pressure can be tough in the
later grades. Teach your child it is ok to have allergies and
that they are no different than anyone else.
Severe food allergies are disabilities. Any child with a
disability needs to be reassured that they are important
people and there is nothing wrong with the way they were born.
If there are no ingredients listed on the food offered, be
sure they know to say "no thanks".
Homemade snacks are big on this list. Most of the time they
will have to be avoided. Make your child's lunch pleasing so
they will want to eat their own food. This way they won't feel
like they are missing something. My son has no problem now
with saying "no thanks" because he always has good things to
look forward to in his own lunchbox. You can put little notes
and "smilies" in your child's lunch as gentle reminders and to
reinforce their knowledge. When dealing with the life of your
child, any precaution taken is a good one.
5. Check to make sure they're doing it RIGHT
Check back often to be sure all guidelines are being followed.
Sometimes people can get lax with time. They figure that your
child has gone this long without a reaction, so they will
continue to do so. It is when the guard is let down that
accidents can happen. Send in reminder notes, or updated
doctor notes. Make sure that you keep track of the expiration
dates on your medicine also. It doesn't do much good if there
is a need for the injection and it is no good. When an
epinephrine shot expires or is improperly stored it will lose
its effectiveness. That is not a situation you want to be in
when your child cannot breathe. Keep the communication lines
open with all those involved with your child. This will help
keep your child's allergy on the forefront and it will be less
likely anyone will make a fatal mistake.
6. Your Support System: Family and Friends
It is sometimes a lifesaver to have a strong circle of family
and friends. It is often as hard for the parents as it is for
the child. I know there were many times I felt as if I were
overwhelmed and had no where to turn. Surround yourself with
people and information that will help you. There are networks
and support groups out there; you just have to seek them out.
Support groups are also a way to get fresh ideas, recipes and
a shoulder to lean on.
Just remember ALL children are entitled to a free and
appropriate education - that is safe. Do whatever you feel
necessary to make it safe for your allergic child. Most
schools will do whatever you ask within reason to put your
mind at ease and to keep your child safe. Just do not be
afraid to ask and keep the educators educated about the
seriousness of allergies, and the consequences of not taking
the proper precautions. If you do these things, your child
will have a safe, happy, incident free learning experience
this school year.
Resources on the Web:
You can download this article in pdf format at
http://www.bridges4kids.org/pdf/Allergies.pdf and the
Allergy Action Plan mentioned.
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network -
Allergy Support -
Living with Anaphylaxis & Handling the Stress -
About the author:
Deanna is the parent of
three young children. Her oldest child, now 8, suffers from
severe food allergies. Deanna has successfully worked with her
school district in Howell, Michigan and now, Jefferson City,
Missouri; together, for five years
running, they have ensured an incident-free school year.