Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back To School - What Do I Ask?



The beginning of another school year is always a daunting task for any mom, let alone a food allergy mom. Especially when it is the first year that your allergic child is starting school. There are so many uncertainties, so many situations and so many different factors to keep in the back of your mind to keep your child safe. To help ease the anguish, I have compiled a list of things to discuss with your child's teacher. I have found that writing things down will help avoid any last minute questions or unplanned events from (hopefully) happening. Create a basic list and then revise it each year for school. As your child grows and changes, so will the list.You may still feel as if it's a fiasco every school year but at least it will be a slightly organized fiasco.

My first thought to any food allergy mom doing anything for their child is this- if you do not feel comfortable leaving your child there, don't do it. You may be paranoid but 9 times out of 10, a mother's intuition is always right. If you are afraid of hurting someones feelings because you don't want to inconvenience them - don't. Your child should come first, no matter what someone else does or doesn't want to do. Never, ever jeopardize your child for the sake of someone else's comfort. If I feel pressured by teachers/guardians/caregivers, I push back and simply say "You do not have to like me or my child, you just need to make sure that my child is safe." This is not something I have had to say often but sometimes you need to show taking the easy way out is just not an option in this case because it's life-threatening.

Snacks

- Are snacks brought in by each individual child or do the teacher's ask for food donations from the parents?
Many schools will do either one. My daughter's school even rotated- Kindergarten they brought in a snack, First Grade the teacher asked for snacks and then back again. Finding out ahead of time will help you to be more prepared as well.

- Can I provide a letter to be sent out to all of the class parents giving them a heads-up about my child's food allergies?
Many times, class parents are more than willing to work with you to try and keep your child safe. By letting them know about your child's situation it will help them to be prepared as well. Just because their child doesn't have a food allergy does not mean that their school day is any less hectic. A sample can be viewed at one of my previous blog posts at http://allergyphoods.blogspot.com/2011/09/letter-to-use-for-class-parents.html

- Can I provide a "Safe Snacks" box for my child?
Some food allergy parents are against this because they feel it makes their child stand out. Personally, we have used the Safe Snacks box for all of my son's school life and I have found it to be a lifesaver many times. In fact, the only time he felt like he stood out was either NOT having a snack that he was able to eat or his snack looked better than the other snacks being served. It's important to educate your child to read labels and not accept foods from other people but also do your best to make them feel just as special with their classmates.

-How is snack time handled? Do the children eat at their assigned desk? Do they sit on an area rug? Do they move around?
If your child's new classroom has children walking around and socializing while having their snacks, this also means that the food particles are being social as well. Discuss this with the teacher and suggest some options. Often times, teachers do not even realize that wandering children and wandering food don't mix well.

- Can you be a class helper at parties and celebrations?
I have never once had a teacher tell me that they would not allow me to help during a class party. Think about it- one or even two teachers with 20+ some children = food = hyperactivity and messes. Most teachers love having an extra person there to get things back into order, to help wipe down the desks and tables and to help wrangle the kids up when they are done. I always say I will be the silent helper with the Lysol wipes.

Field Trips

- Do any of the field trips involve receiving a food or using a food?
If you don't ask, you will have a sad child who comes home from a day trip and tells you that the historic park showed them how they made apple fritters and they couldn't have one. Always ask the teachers ahead of time. If they don't know, call the place to be visited before they go and ask them. It's fast, it will save you the time of having to rush around the night before trying to get a snack together and your child will be a part of the gang. You will be Super Mom and not even realize it.

- Can I accompany my child on the field trips? 
This is a tricky one. I remember when I was in school, there was always a mom going on the trips. This is not the case (at least not in our schools). If you are able to go along, it's a great bonding time with your child and his/her friends, it's a great support to the teachers and your child will be safe.

- Do the teachers understand that the medications bag MUST go with them on all of the field trips?
Again, unless asked the teachers may not even think about this. If you are worried about your child's medications being lost or left on the trip, have them get a fanny pack or a bag that they can drape across their shoulder and hang it to one side. We have used a Swiss Gear Travel Bag and it worked well for us. It is large enough to fit all of my son's Epipens, Benadryl, asthma inhaler and his peak flow meter and it's neutral so it can be used for either a boy or a girl. You can view it at: http://www.target.com/p/swissgear-vertical-travel-bag-black-grey/-/A-11149392

Crafts & Activities

 - Are any classroom or specials (art, music, etc.) activities going to use a food as part of the lesson?
When you were in school, did you make the seasonal pine cone bird feeder using peanut butter? Did you make pictures using dried macaroni? Both of these items as well as many other food items contain food allergens. Items most often used in the classroom are dried macaroni, dried beans, peanut butter, marshmallows and small hard candies. Playdoh also contains wheat. As your child's advocate, you need to be one step ahead and present situations that the teacher may not even be aware of. After all, if you were not allergic to gluten, what would the chances be that you knew there is wheat in Playdoh? How would you know to check a macaroni box for eggs?

- Can I have a list of the craft/art supplies used?
Working with the teachers ahead of time will help you out and help the teachers out. This will keep all schedules flowing as normally planned and should not upset the balance. Offer to suggest safe food replacements for the foods they will be using. You may even consider offering to send in the safe foods for the entire class to further lessen the chance of a reaction. If the teachers are not open to that, then offer to send in a tray for each child to do their activity on. The trays can be transported, they can be labeled with each of their names and the activity (for the most part) would be more contained.

Hand Washing

- Do they hand wash or do they use hand sanitizer?
Replacing hand washing with hand sanitizer has become the new trend in many school. This kills the germs and is faster and easier for the teachers. But the teachers may not realize a few things about hand sanitizer- 1) using hand sanitizer does NOT remove food and dirt. Think about it- have you ever used hand sanitizer after being outside? Does it automatically remove the dirt or does it just smoosh it around? Not too bad if you already have clean hands but otherwise, yuck! 2) There was a study that stated food allergic children should not be using hand sanitizer. The results said that the alcohol in the hand sanitizer dries out the skin, thus allowing more chances of an immediate allergic reaction by entering directly into the child's bloodstream through the cracked skin. This is the exact opposite of what want to do.

- How often is this done?
Try and find out when this is done- is it before entering every classroom? Is it usually just before lunch and recess? Perhaps you can suggest additional items throughout the day or after certain projects that this can be increased.

- What can be done to ensure that hands will remain cleaner?
Whether it be asking if the teacher can increase mandatory hand washing time or allowing your child to wash their hands whenever they feel it is necessary, then this will make the chances of a reaction much less. Teachers do have a busy schedule but by discussing this ahead of time, they should be able to allow that extra 3-4 minutes of time that will be needed for extra washing.

Medications


- How many sets of medications will the school need for your child?
The rule of thumb for many food allergic parents is as follows: 1 for homeroom class, 1 for the School Nurse and 1 for a child that will self-carry. I advise parents to always supply the school and your child with an Epipen Twin Pack. This will be more bulk but if there is an emergency and one Epipen fails, there will always be a second as a backup. The bags for the school should also include Benadryl or Benadryl-like medications, asthma medications, a peak flow meter and anything else that your child might need if an allergic reaction occurs. Every year, I tape an updated picture of my son with his name, date of birth and grade on every single medication in all of his bags to avoid any confusion of who he is and what he needs. This is especially important for a Substitute teacher that may not know your child.

What is the school's policy for keeping a bag inside of your child's homeroom?
More and more schools are becoming accepting of this- thank goodness! The medications can be kept in a safe place from other children, say on top of a tall file cabinet? The important thing is for the teacher to be able to access the bag quickly at all times. Also, ask at what age your child is allowed to self-carry his/her medications. The younger they are, the more used to doing this going forward they will be. It teaches your child to take part in being responsible for his/her allergies as well as understanding what the medications are needed for as opposed to being afraid of having them on themselves.


- Are all of the teachers Epipen certified, including specials teachers?
Most schools have an Epipen certification that the School Nurse will complete before the start of a new school year but always verify this. Some teachers may be new to the school and others may not have attended the certification. An Epipen certification class is fast, easy and if you needed to do this with your child's teachers, you could easily take on the task. All you need is an expired Epipen, a mug with an orange in it (to jab and not jab yourself) and printed Epipen Directions for the teachers. Having the printed directions is just a precaution should anyone need to use an Epipen and panic. Printable directions are available at: http://www.epipen.ca/en/about_epipen/how_to_use_epipen/

Other Allergies

- Are there any other children in your child's class with a food allergy or other allergies?
Sometimes it eases me if there are other children in my son's class who also have allergies. This heightens the teacher's awareness because the number of possible reactions is increased and (I feel) my son will feel like he is not the only one with allergies.

-How would you handle an allergy?
This is a good question to ask, especially if the teacher has stated that they have had previous experience with food allergies. Sometimes their awareness is not as sharp as it should be or perhaps the previous allergy situation was different. Be specific about what type of reactions your child might have and be specific about how the teacher should handle it. Draft a Food Allergy Action Plan and give a copy to all of your child's teachers (not just the homeroom teacher) as well as placing a copy inside of each of your child's medication bags. This prevents anyone from questioning what they should or should not do. If you would like a blank Food Allergy Action Plan, please feel free to email me at Nutrimom@yahoo.com and I will be happy to forward one to you.

- Have you ever treated a child for an allergic reaction? If so, what was the outcome?
Again, this is just to clarify what is necessary for your child. Is the allergic reaction from touching, ingesting, inhaling or even just being in the same room with that allergen? The previous allergic reaction that they handled could have been much more simple compared to what you are trying to prepare them for.

- Is there a previous food allergy parent that was in their classroom that you could speak to?
There is no such thing as being too demanding when your child has allergies. You, as a mother, need to feel completely comfortable sending your child to school every day. If this means contacting a parent of a child that had the teacher last year, then do it. If you are calm, your child will be calm.

Emergency Facilities


- How far is the nearest EMT, Firehouse, Police Station and/or hospital?
If you are as adamant as I am, you probably already know the answer to this question. It's always good to ask if they know as well.

- Do they understand that a teacher MUST stay with your child if there is an allergic situation until one of the parents arrive?
This is so very important! Make sure your child's teachers know that your child's Food Allergy Action Plan clearly states this- DO NOT LEAVE MY CHILD ALONE! Picture this- an allergic reaction occurs, teachers are scrambling to administer medications and call 911. The ambulance arrives and they send your child to the hospital. What happens if the hospital has questions? What happens if your child is recovering and a very nice nurse offers your child a special treat to make them feel more comfortable? Avoid all of this- state that there MUST be someone with your child at all times until one parent arrives to be with them.

- If there are multiple hospitals in your area and you have a preference in which hospital your child is sent to, include this in the Plan
Our location offers several hospitals to choose from but there is a Children's hospital that I state my child is to be sent to. In a bad situation, of course I am not going to be angry if the school sent my child to a different hospital because they had too. Ultimately, your child's safety comes first.

School should be a fun time for your child. With a few precautions, your child should have a great school year!

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