Get Ready for the New School Year of Your Allergic Child

I hate to think it, but summer is on its way out. It seems I was just blogging about the beginning of summer and enjoying those first days of no alarm clock. Well, school is just around the corner and that means many things. For those of us with kids with allergies, one of the things it means is a place where we can’t monitor everything they do or come into contact with. But there is a lot we can do, beginning with letting all those who deal with our children be aware of their allergies.

Of course, that includes their primary teacher. You may choose to talk to her directly or write a letter, both are a good idea. With a letter (more on that upcoming), she has it in writing; by talking she has an opportunity to ask questions and you can personally get the importance across. The week before school starts is a good time to do this, before the kids get there. You can’t talk to every substitute teacher, but you can write a letter for the teacher to keep with her sub notes.

Now as kids get older, they have more classroom teachers; a letter may suffice to all of them, or you may choose to speak to each one directly. You can go through their homeroom teacher and use her as your main contact. High school is also a good time to start putting some of the responsibility on your child and having him or her discuss it with the teachers and help make decisions.

That covers classroom teachers, but what about everyone else who your child comes in contact with. I know at our elementary school, the classroom teacher isn’t with them 100% of the time, except in kindergarten where they have a parapro (another person you need to make aware of allergies and procedures).

So what happens when they go to P.E. or art or the computer lab? You could go to all of these teachers individually and speak to them; you can also send them each a copy of your letter that you sent the classroom teacher. You can also ask the classroom teacher to make sure everyone who will be dealing with your child is aware of allergies (but it can’t be guaranteed that they will do so). The good news is that even though the teacher isn’t with your child in these places, food usually isn’t either. The birthday cupcakes, the snacks and the party food is all usually kept inside the classroom.

You do, of course, want to speak with the nurse and go over emergency procedures. You may want to speak to administration so they are aware of your child’s allergies and needs as well. If you haven’t done so in prior years, you should speak with the cafeteria staff. At our school, kids with allergies are coded in the cafeteria computer so lunchroom staff is aware.

The following items are steps in a list form to take at the beginning of the school year for your child with an allergy, whether it is food, insect, environmental, or any other severe allergy.

1. Make sure you have all applicable forms required by your school and school system completed, updated and signed by you and your child’s doctor/doctors.

2. Make sure you have all prescription medications filled (Epipens, inhalers, etc.) and check the expiration dates. Check to make sure your OTC meds are within the dates as well.

3. Drop off all medication with the appropriate personnel (i.e. teacher, nurse) and/or make sure your child is comfortable to carry it in his or her backpack in a safe spot. If you need your child’s medicine in the classroom instead of the clinic, do what you need to to get that in place. Our school has a policy that it is kept in the clinic, unless otherwise requested. I think you need a doctor’s letter but then it’s no problem. Also, some teachers are more understanding than others, especially if they have Epipen training (which you’d think they’d all have these days). First and best place to get information may be your teacher. If she is  a little resistant, than go to your other sources, school nurse, doctor, administration.

4. Write an informative letter describing your child’s allergy (see this article on letter samples); make sure the letter covers all points and distribute them to the appropriate personnel.

5. Develop an emergency medical plan if a form is not available already. Put it in writing and include preferred medical facilities and emergency phone numbers.

6. Find an appropriate time (i.e. open house, meet and greet) sometime before school starts when you can speak directly to your child’s primary teacher to discuss his/her allergies and your guidelines.

7. If your child suffers from a food allergy, speak with the lunchroom staff to ensure that they are aware of symptoms and procedures in the case your child has a reaction.

8. You may choose to address the class parents (especially in the case of food allergies) either by letter or in person, at an open house, for instance. This is your opportunity to enlist their help in keeping the classroom a safe, allergy free environment for your child.

9. Last, but certainly not to be overlooked, refresh your child on keeping safe and being aware of his/her allergy. Remind him/her of checking ingredients and to ask if uncertain, as well as ways to handle the possible peer pressure or simply talk about the allergy.

Some of these points may apply to you, perhaps all of them will. Use this list as a guideline for yourself and your child to handle your child’s allergy in the safest, most comprehensive way possible. Follow some of the steps, all of the steps, or just use it as a guide to develop appropriate steps that suit your family and educational setting. The goal is not to be overbearing, but to be informative, practical, and proactive to provide a safe school year for your child.

Forming an allergy support group within a school

Just like schools help instill the responsibility we are all working on at home with our kids, it is another place to help empower them about their allergies. We won’t always be there to watch over, and work places will not be as allergy safe as schools. But it is a great learning place, and we as parents can help make it the most efficient and safe one it can be.

When working towards an allergy awareness program in your school, numbers always help. I mentioned in the earlier piece that it helps to have an in house ally, and it also helps to have numbers on your side, as in other families. You can get a support group going, and this will not only help in the school itself, but also for your family.

One way to get this going is to advertise it in your school newsletter. Most schools have a weekly eblast or some sort of communication to the parents. Go through either the school nurse or the PTA to get a blurb out about forming a support group. This can go under a PTA sub committee (maybe you are willing to chair it) and you can meet at school. Check with the school otherwise, some are more strict than others about having local meetings take place there. If your school won’t allow it, go off site. At least you can brainstorm how to get into the schools.

With a support group, you have back up. When you are ready to go into the school to give talks and presentations, you have help. Whether it is to the teachers or other parents, even in the classrooms to the kids, the more experiences, the better. It also is beneficial to have the wisdom from the different allergies; those with peanut allergies need different advice and restrictions than those with milk allergies.

Hopefully your school will back you in getting started, if not, at least they should listen when you are ready to share information. If nothing else, you will have a good core group to support each other. Again, the PTA is a great place to start. It has the credibility already in the school, and there is a national committee called Health and Wellness which allergies can fall under. The school nurse should also be a person who can help you.

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