Preparing your Gluten Intolerant Child for School
Seven Tips for Safety
The first day of school is quickly creeping up on parents. If you are the parent of a child with a food allergy or intolerance, keeping your worries at bay can be challenging to say the least. You may wonder if your child is sharing gluten-laden snacks with other children at lunchtime. What will happen the day of the bake sale? What about those Halloween, Valentine’s Day or winter holiday parties? Field trips, Supply Teachers, pizza day, the school cafeteria - your list of concerns is probably endless.
In spite of the food fear we may have, there is good news. Today there is growing awareness and understanding of food allergies and dietary restrictions. Laws protecting North American children with anaphylaxis and severe food allergies at school have gone into effect over the last few years, and those laws have helped give a voice to children with dietary needs (severe and otherwise). Such laws passed as a result of numerous, tragic food-related deaths.
In 2011, the U.S. passed “The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act.” This law directs food allergy guidelines in schools to prevent exposure to food allergens, and to ensure a prompt response when a child suffers a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction. In 2005, Ontario passed Sabrina’s Law, which ensures that teachers and students know what to do when someone goes into anaphylactic shock. The bill was named after Sabrina Shannon, a 13 year old girl who died at school following an anaphylactic reaction to fries.
Although gluten-intolerance is typically not deadly like anaphylactic reactions to allergens, the safety of those who are gluten-intolerant should not be overlooked. Ingesting only 10 mg of gluten can cause many celiacs, and even those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity to fall ill. There are steps you can take as a parent in order to ensure that your child is safe at school.
Whether your child has been newly diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten-intolerance or a combination of special dietary needs, the following tips can help you support your child when she/he is away from the security and safety net of home. Children also need to learn how to be educated self-advocates. Many of these tips are also applicable to summer camp, parties and other social situations.
At the beginning of each school year, schedule a meeting with your child’s teachers to discuss dietary needs. Be very clear about what your child can and cannot tolerate, as well as the short-term and long-term consequences for your child should those foods be consumed. Bring copies of facts, myths and important information to educate the staff. You can also bring informative books and/or videos to share. Notes from your child’s health professionals may be helpful as well. Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you mean business, and that you take your child’s needs very seriously.
Ask your child’s school staff to post a fact sheet in the office, staffroom and your child’s classroom about your child’s condition/intolerance (e.g., celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity) and a list of foods that your child must avoid. Inquire about whether this form can be placed in the Supply Teacher’s binder as well.
Get a medical alert bracelet for your child and clearly list your child’s medical condition(s) (e.g., celiac disease) and your child’s food intolerance. Allerbling.com is a great resource where you can find medical alert bracelets with fun, kid-friendly designs.
Ask your child’s teacher if you can have a classroom discussion about your child’s condition/food intolerance. Perhaps consider bringing in props, such as foods/products your child is, and is not allowed to eat. You could even offer to present a short video about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet if appropriate.
For birthday celebrations at school (although food treats are rarely allowed today), send some labeled “back up treats” with your child. Even a simple package of allergen-free cookies or a cupcake can be enjoyed, and may lessen or prevent feelings of exclusion.
Teach your child about her/his food intolerance, and teach your child to share, share, share the information with others. It is a good idea for your child to learn how to self-advocate at a young age. If your child is very young, you can teach through the use of role playing and puppets. Research has shown that young children learn quite well through the use of puppets.
Be positive. Learn to look on the bright side, and teach your child to follow suit. There are many advantages to living gluten-free. Remind your child regularly that our differences are what make us special! Keeping positive and demonstrating strength will help your child cope.
Lisa Cantkier has been living gluten-free since her diagnosis of celiac disease as a toddler. As a health and wellness writer with a special interest in holistic nutrition, she enjoys researching and writing about celiac disease and gluten-free living to educate and help others. Lisa is the founder of GlutenFreeFind.com and a co-founder of GlutenFreeSmartStore.com.