Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's not really the birthday cupcake.

So many responses to the mother who wrote about how unfair it is that her child can not freely share birthday cake with her class have been written.  The responses run from polite to indignant.  All of them share a theme- the difficulty present in navigating life with food allergy when met with such hostility.

It's not a legal issue.  We have a law in place already that is aimed at keeping children with disabilities safe, it allows them to have a 504 plan in their classroom.  Each plan is customized to fit the needs of the child, and allergies are very individual, so customization is necessary.  Some children need a higher level of environmental control than others, and it would be lovely to know that the village of parents involved in each classroom will work to support the health and safety of each child *as that child needs it*.  There is not a blanket policy that will work, which is true of many things in life.

The real issue here is the hostility that many of us (as allergy parents) face when we seek the accommodations needed to keep our children safe.  I, personally, try to keep the inconvenience to others as low as possible.  Most of us do.  Please, just keep in mind that if you were advocating for your child's safety you would want to be heard with an open mind and respectful attitude.  

When I advocate for my child’s safety, I am keeping your child in mind as well.  What can I do to keep the environment safe while placing the least restrictions on the other children?  What can I do to ensure that the other children will not have the trauma of watching a peer suffer an anaphylactic allergic reaction?  If I’m doing my job well, your child will never see it happen.  As a result, you all get to think I am an overprotective helicopter mom.  Yes, if I do my job well I get rewarded with a healthy child and a reputation for being a little crazy.  Good times.

The younger the child is the more controlled the environment needs to be.  This is because children have trouble understanding the full ramifications of their actions, both the allergic child and their non-allergic peers.  As the children age, we aim to transfer more responsibility to them as they can manage more.  Pretty sure most parents have that same goal in mind. The difference is that the primary danger for my child is food, which is an unavoidable part of daily life and most social interactions.  

Unless you live with a food allergy, it is difficult to understand how encompassing the impact is on daily life. These kids know they have an allergy, and they have a better handle on how to manage it than you may think.  But they are kids, and they have lapses in judgement, just like any kid.  They are in a classroom full of other children who don’t understand the danger, and who also have lapses in judgement.  The hygiene standards of most children is questionable, which only adds to the uncertainty for allergic reactions in the classroom.  My child is constantly scanning her environment for threats.  Living in this state of hyper vigilance is normal for her, but is known to produce PTSD in most people.
In addition, teachers are watching 20+ students, so may miss the more subtle signs that signal the beginning of a reaction that we moms would see at home with only our children.  Limiting the environmental dangers helps keep their job a bit simpler.

Keeping food out of the classroom, whether it be one food or all of them, doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights.  Personal choice, religious affiliation, and other medical conditions included, limiting food in the classroom does not harm anyone.  Having it present may actually cause death for some children.  Equal education in the least restrictive environment is a right granted to each of us, and it will take cooperation and an attitude of respect to determine what the least restriction might be for each child in question.  Please, just approach the conversation with respect and an understanding that anyone not living with the condition does not fully grasp the challenges of the situation.  Allow room in your life for education, so that you may participate in the conversation with better understanding.  And know this: I’ll do everything in my power to do the same for your kiddo.

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