A Back-to-School Letter to Parents, From a Food Allergy Mom
It’s back-to-school time again! A time filled with excitement and much anxiety. We all know the feeling of scrambling to buy supplies, clothes and food so our children are prepared for the first day.
We all worry if our children will be safe and happy at school. We all wonder if they will be able to keep up with their schoolwork, make friends and survive being away from us for up to eight hours a day.
Many of us have a child with a disability or know someone who does. Many of us know some children may be sensitive to loud noises, bright lights or may learn at a different pace. We sometimes notice aides in the classroom or some accommodations to make sure school is inclusive and rewarding for all students.
Most of us have no problem with that because we realize we should support all children and do whatever it takes to help them thrive, even if that includes some changes in the classroom. We realize we are part of a community and every child’s security and well-being is important.
I am asking for the same consideration and support for my child with food allergies. If my child has one bite of the food he is allergic to or touches a surface with it and then puts his hands in his mouth, he can go into anaphylactic shock and die. I know this firsthand because he has had reactions, and I myself have been in anaphylactic shock and almost died. This is not an overreaction or something to be taken lightly. Certain foods are like poison to our children and can quickly kill them.
Please believe me when I tell you my child can die from even one bite of food containing his allergen. Some children have reactions just being near their allergen or from the particles of nut dust that fill the air of small enclosed spaces such as classrooms or airplanes.
Please imagine how it must feel to send our children, especially our very young ones, to school knowing they may be surrounded by food that could be fatal if ingested. Imagine how it feels to know if they mistakenly eat or are given their allergen at school, they may never come home.
Now imagine this is your child. Think about sending them to school knowing one particle of food can end their precious life.
How would this make you feel? What steps do you think you would take to protect them?
For me, the answer is it makes me feel very scared, helpless and anxious. That is why I educate myself, my child and his school about his food allergies. This is why I write blogs to spread awareness. This is why I teach my young child all I can to stay safe and do all I can to help him lead a full and enjoyable life.
Food allergies are on the rise and according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) one in 13 kids, or about two in every classroom, have them. Anyone can get them, and they can occur at any moment. I was 28 years old when I went into anaphylactic shock after eating shrimp scampi. This was after a lifetime of eating shellfish. I’m lucky to be alive.
I repeat: anyone can develop food allergies.
We should all care about children being safe at school. We should all do whatever we can to ensure that they are.
You may wonder if there is anything you can do to try to keep your child’s classmates with food allergies safer at school. Here are a few things you can do to make a difference:
- Be understanding if food or an allergen like nuts is banned. The classroom is where the children spend most of their time, it must be a safe zone for the food allergic child. They deserve to feel secure and to be able to concentrate on learning.
- Have your children wash their hands before school and after eating. This will prevent certain allergens from being spreading all over the classroom, supplies, school and playground.
- Avoid sending a classmates allergen to school or to bake sales/school events. There are so many delicious alternatives in the supermarkets now!
- Comply with the school’s rules regarding food allergies. They are doing their best to keep everyone safe. Please know that your understanding is much appreciated and may even help save a life.
- Teach your children about food allergies. Read them a book or visit a website such as FARE. Explain that food allergies are considered a disability and that no one should be excluded or teased because they can or cannot do or eat something.
One out of three children with food allergies is bullied. Bullying sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts. This is totally unacceptable and preventable in many cases. If we teach and emulate compassion our kids will do the same. They often model our behavior.
If we come together as parents, and as a school community, we can help keep our kids safer, healthier and happier.
Please help make a difference in a food allergic child’s life by opening your mind and your heart to them and their families. Food allergies are not a joke and are no one’s fault. No one wants to have them and many researchers are trying to find a cause and a cure.
Until then we need your help.
I promise to help support your child and help keep them safe.
Please do the same for my child with food allergies.
I appreciate each and every sacrifice you may have to make or any kindness you or your child shows my child.
My child is sad he has food allergies. He is sad he cannot sit wherever he wants in the lunchroom and that he is one of the reasons there is no food in the classroom. He is sad he is not invited to some classmates’ birthday parties due to his allergies or that he cannot eat the food when he is. He is afraid he may have a life-threatening reaction at school, and for that reason, he wears an EpiPen belt at all times.
He does the best that a 7-year-old can to learn, listen and come home safely to me each day.
Please help him.
A mom who loves her son
Photo submitted by contributor.