Summer is winding down and school is about to start. Is your stomach doing flip-flops?
If your answer is yes, you’re not alone!
For years mine did.
Admittedly, I still get anxious about the start of school because of the change in teachers, classmates, parents and schedules.
But my message to you regarding sending your food-allergic child to school is the same as with any food allergy-related challenge – what may be overwhelming at first becomes manageable over time with education, preparation and dedication.
The good news?
Below are 3 videos to help you in each area. The content was written by me and Meg Carey, editor of A Little Bit CAN Hurt. The videos are courtesy of my kids.
Here’s to a successful and safe school year!
PART 1 OF 3
5 Tasks to Perform Outside of School
1. Refill emergency medications weeks prior to the start of school
- Pharmacies may run low on emergency medications in August due to high demand
- Read expiration date of medications before leaving the pharmacy to ensure they are good for at least one year
- Check out special coupon savings at www.epipen.com and www.auviq.com
2. Obtain a completed allergy action form from your child’s healthcare provider
- Some school districts require you to use their form. Check with your school nurse.
- Form available at FARE, AAAI and AAFA
- Ask health care provider to complete and then give to your child’s school nurse
- Make extra copies to keep with epinephrine auto-injectors
3. Consider purchasing medical alert jewelry from sources such as MedicAlert.org
- Identifies your child as having a medical condition
- Provides necessary medical and contact information to emergency medical personnel
4. Prepare for lunch time
- Provide an easily identifiable lunchbox for your child, clearly labeled with his/her name
- Consider using individual plastic containers
- Consider sending hand wipes or disposable placemats
- Discuss safety procedures with your child and encourage him/her to never share food with classmates
5. Research portable epinephrine auto-injector holders
- If your child will carry the injector on his/her person, shop around for a comfortable case to hold their rescue medications such as epinephrine and an inhaler.
PART 2 OF 3
5 Key People to Speak with at Your Child’s School
Please note requirements and practices vary by school district. For instance, in some school districts, it is the school nurse’s responsibility to inform transportation and cafeteria personnel. Be sure you understand in advance of the school year the particular requirements and practices of your school district and what your responsibilities are as the parent of a food-allergic student.
1. School Nurse
- Obtain required school medical forms (e.g., food allergy action plan, medication authorization forms).
- Have these forms completed by your child’s physician and provide completed forms to the school nurse (be sure to make copies first!).
- Find out when and where to bring your child’s medications. Some school districts require medications to be provided in their original, unopened packaging.
- Explain your child’s food allergies and any previous reactions.
- Ask about the availability of the school nurse during the school day.
- Inquire about frequency and type of staff training.
- Consider providing a food allergy binder which includes information such as details about your child’s allergies, emergency contacts and food allergy management.
- Ask about allergens in the classroom such as manipulatives for lessons and projects, class pets, etc.
- Inquire about school policies regarding snacks, celebrations and field trips.
- Explain your child’s allergies and describe previous reactions, if any.
- Understand whether your child’s teacher has been trained to recognize allergic symptoms and to administer epinephrine.
- Bring an epinephrine auto-injector trainer to your meeting with the teacher. Demonstrate its use.
- Consider bringing an expired epinephrine auto-injector to the meeting and allowing the teacher to practice injecting an apple or orange.
3. Bus Transportation Staff
- Ask about policies regarding eating on the bus.
- Inquire whether or not the bus driver is trained in food allergy safety such as how to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction and how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector.
- Review your child’s food allergy action plan and consider providing a copy to the bus driver.
4. Principal or Administration
- Inquire about food allergy policies for the classroom, cafeteria and school building.
- If your child’s safety needs are not being met and you are considering a 504 plan, contact your school district’s 504 coordinator or school social worker.
- Discuss with school personnel the possibility of posting adhesive hooks in the classrooms and school areas (gym, cafeteria, etc.) where your child will move throughout the school day. This way, your child can hang his/her emergency medication bag for easy access without having to wear it.
5. Cafeteria Staff
- Inquire whether your child’s food allergens are permitted in the cafeteria.
- If your child will be purchasing school meals, discuss food ingredients and preparation processes.
- Ask what steps will be taken to prevent your child from being exposed to food allergens.
- Discuss and determine which strategies (e.g., peanut-free table, “safe square,” having the teacher wipe down your child’s eating area) will be utilized in order to keep your child safe.
- Inquire whether cafeteria personnel are trained to recognize life-threatening allergic symptoms and to administer epinephrine.
- Review emergency procedures.
- Ask how you can contact cafeteria staff during the school year.
PART 3 OF 3
5 Topics to Discuss with Your Child about His/Her Food Allergies
1. Importance of hand washing with soap and water prior to eating. Hand sanitizer does not remove allergens effectively.
2. No trading/no sharing food policy. Children should only eat food from home or foods that have been preapproved by Mom or Dad.
3. Importance of immediately telling an adult if they feel sick.
Review symptoms with your child in terms he/she will understand.
4. Importance of not playing with their epinephrine auto-injector or allowing a friend or classmate to do the same. Children who carry their own epinephrine auto-injectors must understand that their medication is for life-threatening emergencies and is not a toy.
5. Importance of reporting any incidents of bullying to teacher and parent. Recent studies have reported that up to one third of food-allergic children are bullied. Encourage your child to tell an adult right away if they are being teased or bullied.
Looking for more? Check out these previous blog posts.
Question: Do you have a back to school tip? You can leave a comment below.
Supporting the Food Allergy Circle
Donna DeCosta, MD ( @foodallermomdoc ) is founder of FoodAllergyMomDoc an online community dedicated to supporting the Food Allergy Circle with tips, ideas and resources and author of A Little Bit CAN Hurt: The Shocking Truth about Food Allergies — Why We Should Care, What We Can Do.