During a past meeting with my daughter’s school about food allergies, the principal commented that parents sometimes don’t tell the school that their kids have food allergies. I was a bit surprised to hear this and wasn’t quite sure what to think of it.
Recently I read that in one US school study 55% of epinephrine auto-injectors supplied for general use were administered to kids who were NOT previously identified as being at risk for anaphylaxis. Similar numbers were shown in an Australian study too. Of course, there could be a couple of reasons this happened: one is that an allergy JUST developed, and another is that the parents didn’t tell the school about the allergy. Even if we conservatively assume half of these were new allergies, that’s a lot of families that didn’t talk to their school about their child’s food allergies.
Given this number, I thought it might be a good idea to explain why talking to our school and creating a school food allergy plan is so important EACH & EVERY year.
Reasons To Create A School Allergy Plan
1. Peanut & nut aware schools don’t necessarily cover us:
If you’re a mom of a peanut or nut-allergic kiddo, you might be thinking that it’s not important to tell your school about your child’s allergy because your school has a peanut and/or nut aware policy. But how effective is the policy? Further investigation needs to be done, but a recent study showed that peanut and nut aware schools did NOT decrease the number of epinephrine shots required in a year compared to schools without these policies. I'm not saying we should get rid of peanut and nut aware policies because there's lots of good that come from them, but it's a bit of a wake-up call.
2. Reduce the chance of anaphylaxis at school.
Ok mamas, are you ready? Sixteen - 18% of kids with food allergies experience reactions at school. I find this number scary. This stat alone gives me reason enough to talk to our teacher and principal about food allergies. The BEST way a teacher can help our kids is if they KNOW there’s a problem. And telling the teacher and school is only the FIRST step. We then need to educate and WORK WITH them to come up with a plan that will work for everyone.
3. Save precious time in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.
As shown by the stat in the first paragraph, in many cases where epinephrine was used at school, the school had no idea there was even a food allergy. Imagine the confusion and possible time wasted trying to figure out what’s going on. The faster epinephrine is administered in the case of anaphylaxis, the better. Let’s not put our kids, teachers and schools into a compromised position right off the bat. Let’s help the schools so they can help our kids.
4. Inform and educate about food allergies.
A survey done in the 2013/14 year showed that 17% 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. Even in the MOST allergy aware schools, there are still many misconceptions about food allergies. One of the biggest is being able to RECOGNIZE an anaphylactic reaction. For example, many people don’t know that fainting or a sudden drop in blood pressure is an instant sign of anaphylaxis; or that anaphylaxis can happen without hives appearing; or that anaphylaxis does not always mean difficulty breathing. Taking the time to educate the teachers about these symptoms could save your child’s life AND it gives the teacher confidence in an anaphylactic event.
5. Prepares our kids for 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; eating foods with "may contain" warnings, not carrying their epinephrine, or not teaching their friends what to 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.
6. 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.
7. Decreases our stress (and our LO's too).
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.
Although schools are slowly increasing their food allergy awareness, it’s still mainly up to us parents to improve awareness and management of food allergies for our kids. And we can do it: one teacher, one principal, one school at a time.
Starting Your School Allergy Plan
Now that you have 7 reasons to create a school allergy plan, I want to help you take the next step with this guide on school solutions: