Heading to School with Food Allergies

The new school year is almost upon us here in Australia… this can be a highly anxious time for both parents and children with severe food allergies… whether you are just beginning school or going into a new year level. Risk minimising, planning and communication are key factors in making this transition a smooth one. We have also learnt, that with a few firm rules, school can be a safe place for all involved… including happy kids with severe food allergies.
We always meet with the school co-ordinator and Oliver’s new school year teacher (and school nurse if applicable) towards the end of the prior year. If just starting school it would be great to meet prior to their orientation day at the end of the year before they start school.
Having a meeting that includes the school heads will allow you in one sitting to get a clear message across to all that will be responsible for your child’s safety and care.

For a smooth transition to the start of school Oliver makes sure that he has:

  • Medical bag with Epipen, anti-histamine and Ventolin packed
  • Extra EpiPen for the Healthcare Centre
  • We note the expiry dates of the EpiPens
  • Action Plan for Anaphylaxis completed and signed by Oliver’s doctor or allergist (x1 for his medical bag and x1 for the Healthcare Centre to be displayed in different parts of the school)

  • Our school has a No Sharing policy. This is a great policy as you know that the school is 100% behind this philosophy. If your school doesn’t have this you could request the implementation of such a policy. Or most severe food allergy children by school starting age would understand this rule. Reinforce the ‘no-sharing’ of food rule daily to them prior to the start of school. Let them know that there are plenty of other opportunities to share things like toys and books and things that are not food 🙂
  • Eat under supervision in a designated area outside of the classroom. This is especially for the Junior years.
  • Not only for good hygiene hand washing with soap and water is a must after eating breaks and prior to returning to the classroom
  • Teach your child how to say ‘No, thank you” when offered food.

The above are all fantastic and really easy risk minimising ideas. We always try our best to avoid reactions but if an accidental reaction was to happen it is always good to know that a plan is in place for if something was to happen. When Oliver was in Kindergarten he had an anaphylactic reaction to an unknown cause, most likely from touching one of his allergens on a table or a toy, then having it introduced into his system either through his mouth, nose or respiratory system. Children are so tactile at this age it is difficult. I have always been with Oliver for all of his reactions and this was unusually no exception… it was mid morning and I just happened to be returning to school for a meeting and walked into the kindergarten door as Oliver was being carried and rushed to the nurse in the Healthcare Centre. It was such an anxious time as he was very unwell but I was very happy that I could be there with him as he received his EpiPen from the school nurse and for the ambulance ride to the hospital as per his Action Plan for Anaphylaxis.

We learnt a lot from that experience. We learnt that sometimes no matter what you do accidents and reactions can happen. We learnt that even though this happened we know that we have an Action Plan set out in black and white and because of this everyone knows what to do in an emergency situation.  We realised that there is always so much to think about when dealing with severe food allergies especially when starting school. And we realised that making sure that all is in place at the time of starting is very, very important in keeping your food allergy child safe while they are away from your care…

If your child was to have a reaction at school:

  • Teach your child that a grown up can help if they are feeling unwell.
  • Teach your child that when they are feeling different or unwell not to worry but to either go and tell an adult straight away or get a friend to get an adult.
  • Teach your child not to be afraid but to say, “I have food allergies and I am feeling unwell.”
  • Teach your child how to verbalise these different/unwell feelings.

Educating, role playing, engaging your food allergy child in this open dialogue enables your child to understand and therefore empowers them to feel safe in their new environment.

Wishing all the brave food allergy parents and food allergy children a wonderful start to a great and reaction free 2015 school year!!! 

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