Friday, August 7, 2009

Back to School Preparedness for Your Food-Allergic Child

I went to the FACTS (Food Allergy Community of Tennessee) meeting the other night and it was very informative. Since Brody is only 9 months old, I do not worry too much about dropping him off at the church nursery because they are not giving the children snacks yet. I am sure this will be changing as he moves up to the next class. This meeting got me thinking about what I can do to protect my child and not come across as a crazy parent.

I feel that informing care takers is critical. I am a former teacher, and I thought of times that I gave treats to my students without even thinking about possible allergic reactions. Now granted, I never knowingly had a food-allergic student in my class, but as a teacher you get so busy and sometimes food allergies slip your mind, especially if you are not made aware of them or do not realize that it could be life-threatening. Obviously, having a food-allergic child makes you cautious and want to share this information with those you are entrusting your child with. Susan Dean did a fabulous job of presenting information on how to train a school, preschool or nursery to care for your food-allergic child.

1. Plan an initial meeting in advance of your child's start date
-possibly meet with the person in charge (example: Nursery director, Preschool director, child's teacher, etc. to make them aware of your child's food allergies)
-convey that you are willing to help and build a relationship (let your face be known, but in a positive way)
-have a plan in place

2. What's the PLAN?
-Do you agree with it? Do you think there are any holes in it?
-Are food-allergic children put together in the same class? Will there be another food allergic child in your child's class (this can sometimes be easier since the teacher will have a few children to think about that have food allergies)
-What do you as a parent need to provide (medicine (EpiPen, Benedryl), contact info in case of an emergency, etc.)

If there is NOT a Plan
-help to initiate a plan and figure out what goes in the booklet
-FAAN-print out form with picture on it (Food Allergy Action Plan)
-What goes in binder? Where is the binder stored?
-Where do they keep medicine? How many EpiPens are in the school and who has them?
-What about the Cafeteria? Is there a peanut free table?
-What about snacks in the classroom? (example: no nut products allowed in the room?)
-Plan for substitute-information put in folder about food allergic children on bright colored paper (makes it stick out) Would the school nurse be willing to speak to the substitute teacher in the morning if the classroom teacher is out?
-Field Trips-try to go with your child. Also, ask the place where the field trip is being held if they will be serving food/snacks (take initiative as the parent or possibly the school nurse or classroom teacher would volunteer to do it)
-How are classroom parties handled?
-If there is an emergency, who takes care of it? What is the emergency plan?
-Who tells the other students about the child's food-allergies (example: school nurse, classroom teacher, etc.) Food Allergy Elementary Presentation
-How do you handle children being teased?
-Make sure the caregiver understands that it is ALWAYS alright to administer the EpiPen if they are unsure and if it is administered, you WANT your child taken to the hospital.

3. Provide your child's information and medicine in accordance with the school's plan
-Medical contact form/action plan/EpiPens/Benedryl
-have a Zip-Lock bag with Benedryl, EpiPen, copy of how to use EpiPen (possibly insurance card) or anything else you feel is important for your child in case of an emergency
-Think about having a laminated information card with child's picture, food-allergies, how to spot allergic reactions, emergency information (exactly what to say when 911 is called (example: a script with the pertinent information you want conveyed to emergency first responders), directions on how to get to where the child is at that time, something the caregiver can read...when someone is distraught he can tend to forget simple things and time is important), copy of insurance card
-Give laminated card to all caretakers (even elective teaches/cafeteria director, etc.)

4. Offer to help with teacher in-service or nursery worker training
-Check FAAN for products to help with training (example: EpiPen Trainer and DVD Set)
-Put together a slide show to show teachers/school workers of food-allergic children in the school with their food-allergies so everyone works as a team and is aware of these students (what an amazing idea....when I was teaching, I would have been on board for this!)
-bring FAAN pencils or even some "safe" food for the teachers

5. Meet with your child's individual teacher
-emphasize the "main" food-allergy your child has and what could happen
-discussion of snacks that will be allowed in the classroom
-offer to look at all of the labels of snacks/food that will be in the classroom
-have a box of snacks ready for your child just in case something arises and your child will not be able to eat what the rest of the class is having (so he doesn't feel left out)
-volunteer to be the party mom or work with other mom's who are planning the food, etc.
-what information will be left about food-allergic children for the substitute (action plan for substitute)
-Teacher CheckList (I would have found this helpful when I was teaching)

6. Meet with the cafeteria director or head of kitchen
-possibly give him/her an EpiPen to have in the cafeteria "just in case"
-build a relationship with this person, he/she will be serving the food and know what's going on in the cafeteria

7. Stay in touch
-be seen (in a positive, helpful way)
-e-mail the classroom teacher before a field trip if you are not able to attend to give a friendly reminder (example: please make sure that he has his EpiPen with him)

8. THANK the people taking care of your child
-notes or small gifts (personal touches)
-make them feel appreciated (this goes along with building a relationship)

AMAZING information! This lays everything out for me to think about when leaving Brody in the nursery (not all points apply right now), but it also gives me ideas for later on down the road when he starts school. Also, I know that a teacher would find this information important (if presented in a positive way) since it is important to make sure that every child has a safe learning environment and these days, it seems that this includes food-allergies.

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