Ever since pre-school I’ve been meeting with teachers and schools to talk about how to safely manage my daughter's food allergies at school. In the beginning, I had no idea there were so many ways that food allergies impact school. Of course, there are recess snacks and lunches kids bring, but depending on the classroom, there’s also food used in the class curriculum, birthday treats, bake sales, fall fairs, celebration days, field trips and more. So as time went on, I not only realized how MUCH food is a part of a school, I began to realize HOW important those food allergy meetings were.
What Is a School Allergy Plan?
Over the years, I've become more structured and knowledgable about HOW I present food allergies to our teachers and WHAT our plan entails. I figured out that to cover all the bases, we needed to go over the daily school routines and find all the ways that food impacts those routines and how to either create new routines or find ways to make the same routines safe. And this is what a School Allergy Plan is: a DETAILED plan created with your teacher (and school) that keeps food allergic kids safe at school. A similar plan can be created for any childcare provider, daycare, pre-school/junior kindergarten, and junior/senior high too.
Who Should Have a School Allergy Plan?
In short, any child who has a prescription for epinephrine should have a food allergy plan with their school or daycare.
I know some of you aren’t sure how severe your child’s allergy is because even though you have a prescription for epinephrine, your child has never had more than a few hives when they eat their allergen. If this is the case, you need to know: food allergy reactions are NOT consistent, and you can’t base future reactions on past reactions. Having mild reactions can be misleading because the body can react severely at any time and you never know when or if it will happen. So, if your child has a prescription for epinephrine (or EpiPen), it means your child has the possibility of having an anaphylactic or severe reaction; and the BEST way to stop anaphylaxis is to completely avoid the allergens and traces of the allergens. Which means you’ll want to make sure you have a School Allergy Plan.
Benefits of a School Allergy Plan
So what does a School Food Allergy Plan do? First of all, it decreases the chance that your child will encounter their allergen(s). If an allergen is encountered anyway and anaphylaxis occurs, a School Allergy Plan will improve the chances of the best-case scenario for your child. There are lots of other benefits too:
1. Increases teacher & school awareness. No matter how allergy aware your school might be, there’s ALWAYs something we can teach our teacher. There are so many misunderstandings and misinformation about food allergies that working with each of our teachers to create a School Allergy Plan on a one-to-one basis WILL teach them something and increase their awareness. That something might allow your child to feel more included in the classroom or even save their life.
2. Prepares our young kids to make better decisions during the difficult teen years. Teens who are not confident with their allergy may “hide” the allergy from their friends because they’re embarrassed by it and they don’t want to be different. Because of this, they might be put into dangerous situations; kissing someone who’s eaten their allergen; not carrying their epinephrine, or not teaching their friends what to look for or do if they have a reaction. By creating a plan with our school while our kids are young, we can include ways to encourage peer knowledge of the allergy AND teach our food allergy kids how to take responsibility so this isn’t new when they get to the teen years.
3. It begins the process of independence in a safe environment. We all know that kids need to learn independence. The fear of an anaphylactic reaction at school makes this process much harder. In fact, food allergy kids often don’t become independent from their parents as fast as non-food allergy kids. By creating an allergy plan with our school, and including our kids in that plan with their own responsibilities, we’re allowing our kids to gain confidence and learn how to protect themselves in an environment that is still protected enough for the stage they’re at.
4. Decreases the stress of the food allergy parent & child. Letting our babies go out that door into the big world by themselves is HARD. For me, adding the worry of an anaphylactic reaction while I’m not there brings me to my knees. Creating a solid plan to keep my child safe and being confident my teacher & school will follow it is priceless.
5. Increases the teacher’s food allergy confidence. A survey done in the 2014/15 year showed that 18% of schools recorded an anaphylactic reaction that year. I know the LAST thing any teacher wants is for one of their kids to have an anaphylactic reaction on their watch. Creating a clear plan for how to avoid allergens, how to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to use the EpiPen will give the teacher confidence to know what to do in an anaphylactic emergency.
What Should a School Allergy Plan Cover?
As I mentioned above, food plays a big part of the school which means a plan can be quite detailed. In general, it should cover; management of the allergen(s) and how to avoid them in the daily school routines & processes. Staff & classroom training would also be discussed. I always make sure that the teacher knows the symptoms to watch for and how to use the EpiPen too.
Want to know more details about creating a School Allergy Plan? Find out where to start with the school solutions lowdown.
What about you? What is keeping you from creating a School Allergy Plan with your school?