The start of the school year means fresh backpacks, school supplies, and most importantly for food-allergy families, a new teacher and routine. Use these five steps and resources to become a food allergy valedictorian.
Set up a meeting before school starts.
Speaking with school staff and educators ahead of time sets the stage for an ongoing partnership. This is the opportunity to understand your school’s policies and to communicate your child’s individual needs. Request that your child’s primary teacher and the school nurse, if they have one, attend. Consider requesting any other faculty that will be responsible for your child.
Prep your materials.
Here are the essential items to gather ahead of your meeting. Plan to leave these items at the school.
Emergency Action Plan: Make sure it’s up-to-date and that it reflects your child’s current weight so that your medication dosages are correct.
Auto-injectors and any other medications: Confirm that they’re not expired.
Auto-injector trainer: Use this to train any staff who are unfamiliar with auto-injectors in your meeting.
Safe snacks: Bring if your child can only eat the snacks you provide, or to have a backup snack in the event it’s needed.
504 Plan: Not sure what this is? We can help—see how a 504 plan is different from an IEP.
Discuss everyday care.
Start by asking the school if they have a food allergy policy. If yes, decide if it covers your individual needs and make additional requests if necessary. If they don’t have a policy, this is your opportunity to provide clear direction for how you want your child’s allergy to be managed.
Tackle everyday activities where food is used. Then, discuss the ever-present, but less frequent occasions that food may be eaten, such as birthdays. The goal is to set a clear and agreed-upon protocol for when food is in the classroom. If your teacher or faculty will be the last line of defense for checking food, make sure they understand how to read a food label.
Discuss whether you want to be notified ahead of when food is in the classroom, particularly for special occasions. Communicate how often and how far in advance you want these notifications. Suggest regular check-ins to ensure that your strategy is working.
Provide clear instructions in the event of an allergic reaction.
Your goal is to educate the school about the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and how to care for your child in the event a reaction occurs. Use your Emergency Action Plan as a guide. Educate about signs of a mild and severe reaction. If your child has had a reaction before, share what past reactions have looked like and note that future reactions could present differently.
Provide exact instructions on how to handle each type of allergic reaction. Communicate how you’d like the teachers and faculty to care if your child has consumed a known allergen, but there is an absence of symptoms. Then, make sure to prepare the school for a severe reaction by using your auto-injector trainer so faculty and staff can see how to use an auto-injector quickly and properly.
Share the plan with your child.
Your child may need to be their own advocate in the event of an allergen, so it’s important that they know what to expect. Before school begins, sit down with your child and talk through the protocols you have established with the school for when food is present. Go over daily food scenarios and infrequent scenarios. For example, can they always, never or sometimes participate in birthday treats? Make sure your child knows who to go to if they feel like they’re having an allergic reaction.
Susie Hultquist is the founder and CEO of the Spokin app and a food allergy mom.