Here in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are affected by pollen allergies in May. They sniffle, sneeze, grumble, and spend lots of money on antihistamines to help them get through spring. May also brings us Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 11–17) and National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. If your students are complaining about their seasonal allergies, this is a great time to talk about other allergies that some of their classmates deal with all year.
Schools have been discussing food allergies for many years. The increase in milk and peanut allergies brought training and education for teachers and families—finding non-milk sources of calcium, keeping peanuts out of schools, recognizing life-threatening reactions, and learning how an EpiPen can save a child in anaphylactic shock. More recently awareness has extended to reactions to gluten and several other food categories. Food allergies affect many, but helping people cope with them affects us all.
It’s important to do research and familiarize yourself with food allergies. Within your school, the nurse’s office is probably your first line of contact for information and emergency assistance. Many community organizations and institutions offer tailored education for schoolchildren (and their teachers). Just as a firefighter can come and talk fire safety to kids, paramedics and visiting nurses in many towns will visit and help kids understand severe allergic reactions, and what to do if it happens to a friend. And of course, getting information from parents about their children’s allergies and reactions is critical.
Children with severe food allergies may have varied emotional reactions to living with their conditions. They may feel singled out and different from classmates. At times they might be impatient with their prevention routine, or resent having to explain to others why they can’t eat or touch certain things. Kids may have classmates teasing them or complaining that it is their “fault” that they can’t have peanut butter cookies for treats. Kids who have experienced severe reactions to their allergies may be fearful of more episodes. Teachers can help by addressing the topic in class, and by reinforcing the discussion all through the school year.
Web resources worth exploring:
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has information for schools and parents, and for medical professionals as well. You can download a Food Allergies in the U.S. poster for your classroom.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has resources for doctors, teachers, and more. Their Allergies tab takes you to links for common allergens and includes current information on management, treatment, and research.
The Kids with Food Allergies site is packed with information for parents and others who work with kids with food allergies. Their Resources page has links to e-newsletters, support groups, and YouTube videos by kids coping with allergies.
SafeFARE offers advice for dining out with food allergies, as well as help for restaurants wishing to accommodate customers with special food needs. Their site also includes some restaurant listings.
The Australian organization Allergy & Anaphylaxis offers a Food Allergy Awareness Toolkit for Schools, available as a PDF download. It is aimed at elementary school kids, and is appropriate for use in other countries as well.
How has your class been affected by food allergies? How do you talk about food allergies in your class?
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