Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to school with allergies

Back to school time is such a mixed bag for parents.  Half of our brain wants to hold on to lazy summer days when our schedule can have a bit more flex in it, enjoy those summer moments with the kids just a liiittle longer.  The other half of our brain is ready for a break from the bickering that has started, the long days of summer that are starting to wear on the children rather than relax them.

Allergy parents start getting ready for the next school year earlier than most.  Many of us start in the spring, before the current school year is even over!  That's the time to contact your school and start the conversation about how to make school a safe place for your specific allergy needs.

In addition to purchasing the standard school supplies like lunch boxes and crayons, and prepping the all important first day outfit, allergy moms also:

1) Stock the medicines needed for our kids at school.  Liquid Benadryl, epinephrine auto-injectors, inhalers, topical steroids, etc.  Easily an extra $500 of essential supplies.

2) Chase down medical forms.  Print them from the school website or drop by to pick them up from the nurse.  Drop them at the allergist to fill out (for a fee), pick them up when they are ready a week later, and make sure they are at school on day 1.  There is a form for each medication along with instructions on how and when to use them, an action plan for how to handle allergic reactions, an action plan for how to handle asthma, and forms that give permission for your child to self-carry their auto-injector/inhaler.  (In addition to the additional set in the nurse's office, which does take it's own form.)

3) Meet with school staff.  This has to be done before day one, so allergy parents need to be proactive!  We start sending notes in the spring to be sure to get face time prior to the start of the year.  We review the 504 or IHP plans to make sure they are up to date and will be valid in the new classroom setting.  We speak with individual teachers to work through any concerns or kinks in setting up a safe environment and safety protocols.  This can involve many meetings and much discussion before plans are finalized.

4) Intensive kiddo training.  We understand that teachers have 24 other kids they are watching and may not immediately notice issues that negatively impact our kids.  We have to train our kids how to self advocate.  This starts in kindergarten!  How to let an adult know if you feel allergic symptoms.  How to notify an adult if you feel unsafe, or see something that could be an allergic trigger.  How to turn down treats and foods that are offered.  How to eat lunch safely.  It goes on and on...

5) Research and plan lunch options.  If the school feels they can accommodate our kiddo, we meet with the cafeteria staff and review safety protocol (or write it sometimes!), research ingredient information, determine if the food is safe and can be kept that way throughout the preparation stage.  If the cafeteria can not accommodate the allergies in question (I know ours could not handle the 15 that I avoid.), we stock up on lunch box supplies and ideas.  Thermos bottles, water bottles, lunch containers, etc. Come with ideas about what to put into the container that the kiddo can and will eat.  Then we address how to seat the allergic kiddo so that safety continues during dining.  (Ever see elementary kids sneeze/cough while eating? I don't have allergies, and I would be worried about the amount of their food sprayed onto my lunch!)

Back to school is a mixed bag.  We want our kids to see their friends, gain a bit more autonomy, and learn new information.  It takes a bit of extra work, and a lot of extra faith.  We count on the village to help prevent anaphylaxis from happening at school, and appreciate every effort that is made with that goal in mind.

Are you an allergy parent?  Tell me what steps I missed!

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