As we approach the new school year, there is more for us moms of allergic children to think about than stationary and book supplies. Entrusting your food allergic child’s health to the care of another adult, perhaps one unfamiliar with his or her food allergies, can be pretty daunting. The usual excitement surrounding the first day inevitably leads to anxiety as visions of tuck shop chaos, classroom birthday parties and snack sharing fill your head.
In order to feel confident and ensure your child has a safe school year, you must check off your own back to school list. One that involves obtaining a letter from your child’s paediatrician or allergist; contacting and meeting with the principal, school nurse and teacher; and creating an individualised allergy school health plan. All well before your child’s first day of school.
Some schools may have developed their own school-wide Allergy Management policy to address students with food allergies. Parents should find out if such a policy exists for the school where their food allergic child will attend. In addition to this, each parent should work with their child’s school and doctors to formulate an individualised care plan to be given to the principal, teacher and school nurse to ensure all present know what to do in the event of an allergic reaction.
Examples of items to consider when working with your child’s school to formulate a school and individualised allergy care plan
- Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction
- A list of all allergies (including food and environmental) and the severity of each
- An emergency treatment plan – including a list of the child’s medication, such as adrenaline auto injectors, antihistamines; emergency services numbers and the child’s doctor’s details.
- Training of staff on how to recognise allergic reactions and administer medicine, such as adrenaline auto injectors.
- Guidelines for safety at lunch and snack time – e.g. no food sharing
- Changes in the classroom, canteen or tuck-shop – e.g. “nut free tables ‘, use of soaps free from nut oils, no latex balloons, no foods as rewards in the classroom, alternatives to food for party treats.
- Elimination of food in art classes or other lesson plans
- Storage of medicines
- Storage of safe snacks and safe non-perishable lunch items should the need arise.
- Other issues pertinent to your child and his/her specific food allergies, such as responsibilities and procedures on field trips, school parties and for other potential risk situations.
Once your child’s plan is created, you will need to update it at key transition times or whenever there is a problem or incident that reveals a gap in the plan.
In addition to preparing your child’s school, you will also need to prepare the young person at the centre of all this planning! Start working with your child, in an age-appropriate way, to teach him what he is responsible for, such as avoiding allergens, not sharing food and speaking up if he starts to have an allergic reaction at school.
With the above plans and preparation in place, your child’s risk and exposure will hopefully be reduced to have a safe 2015 school year.