Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inclusion: An elusive beast

My oldest daughter has multiple food allergies.  It was a struggle for me to transition into this lifestyle, and I vividly remember how hard it was to cook for her in the beginning.  Because of her allergies- fifteen of them- there are VERY few store bought treats that are safe for her.

Somehow, the first school we attended always did a fantastic job of planning parties that allowed her to be included in most of the treats.  I never asked them to ban her allergens from celebrations, or to make sure she could enjoy every treat.  The truth is, I thought it would be too hard for other parents to manage.  It was hard for me, I can't ask a roomful of mothers to learn it just for school parties.  I only ask that we leave peanut out of the classroom because she is contact reactive and anaphylactic.  Other than that, we roll with it.  I check ingredients at every party, and I always bring treats similar to what the rest of class will be enjoying.  (I don't bake for the whole class because I'm afraid what we eat is so different the other kids will dislike it.  She doesn't need a room of her peers telling her that her food is yucky.)  The new school is not so good at being inclusive.  There are few snacks that she can have, and she has noticed.

My youngest daughter is gluten sensitive.  Not allergic.  Not celiac.  But gluten gives her a tummy ache.  So, I kindly let her teachers know every year that she can not eat gluten.  I make it clear that it is not an allergy, and her life is not at risk, but it does make her ill.

Not one teacher has tried to accommodate my little one's restriction.  Not. One.

Recently the little one was crying because the class was rewarded with yet another treat she could not enjoy.  She wanted to know why there couldn't be gluten free treats in the class, because gluten free is so easy to find.  I gently tried to explain that some people don't understand how important it is for her to avoid gluten, because it doesn't hurt her.  Her response? Written all over her face, shining out from her sad eyes: 'But it does hurt. It hurts my feelings.'

Both of my children are touched when another child or another mother makes a point to bring in a treat that they can enjoy.  When someone's actions say "You are noticed. And you are worth including."

It does hurt to have food in the classroom.  It hurts their self esteem.  That sense of being worth being kept safe, of being valued as an equal, and of being worth including.

Reaction or not, children are paying attention to the message we send by excluding the outliers.  The children with diabetes, celiac, allergies, and religious beliefs that impact their diet choices.

The message is that the minority is not worth including.  That their needs are less important, and therefore not worth accommodating. It hurts everyone in the classroom, not just my children.

1 comment:

  1. I have read that anxiety re: allergy is greater for parents than kids but my experience is more consistent with what you've written here - my daughter feels personally hurt when/if including her is not attempted. I was at the store the other day and someone was considering candy for a birthday party and didn't know which to choose. I remarked to them that if they chose option A over option B then children with nut allergies could probably enjoy some of the choices and they gladly chose the more inclusive option. There's a huge lesson to be learned with accommodation, the social situations of school play out pretty much through our lives with gatherings and even business lunches. Sending good thoughts your daughter's way, hopefully things will start looking up soon.


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