By Kristin Beltaos, bio below
My son’s first year of elementary school (kindergarten) aligned perfectly with the Chinese Horoscope, the year of the Black Water Dragon. The Chinese consider the dragon to be unpredictable, untouchable, and to continue with this mystique, people can’t see the dragon’s head and tail at the same time.
The above description so clearly aligns with what parents of food allergic kiddos experience. We have to anticipate every possible situation to educate others, and protect our children. Parents prepare and educate constantly, we think we’ve covered all bases and then, add a dash of Emeril Lagasse, BAM! Something hits us smack between the eyes. I felt this way many times during my son’s first year of school. The year sometimes felt unpredictable, untouchable and mysterious…where’s the dragon’s head, where’s his tail, always waiting in anticipation.
How things have changed since I was in kindergarten. I remember finger-painting, napping on my green shag rug and playing. It was a simpler time, and any forty-something would tell you that we turned out just fine.
Now, my son is reading, writing and doing math. Play is designated for only a couple times a week and food celebrations are in vogue to commemorate anything, i.e., reach the school fundraising goal – TREAT; post Halloween bingo – TREAT; fall classroom festival – MULTIPLE TREATS; Valentine party – TREAT; all school assembly – TREAT, etc. Yes, I’m talking to you about food allergies, but with all these tasty treats, no wonder we have a childhood obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, we live in a society that socializes, celebrates, rewards and crafts with food, especially at school.
Having said the above, smart parents always plan early. It’s what we do! I’ve always been a planner, which really comes in handy when you love and parent a food allergic kiddo. Even though the school year has ended, it’s not too early to plan for the 2012-13 school year. In fact, I consider it primetime.
Kristin’s Top Tips for Preparing for School with Food Allergies
1. Start Talking and Collecting!
- Speak with your allergist and ask for a letter detailing your child’s health condition and needs; Complete an Anaphylaxis Plan, Asthma Action Plan (if applicable) and medication authorization document(s).
- Start chatting up school officials: principal, district and school nurse and teacher (if known). Ask for the district’s food allergy/anaphylaxis policies or guidelines, study it and determine any further accommodations you want for your child. Schedule an August meeting to speak with your cast of characters.
- Lay the groundwork with your allergic child. Start talking with your child about how things might be different from the previous year’s experience with regard to food allergies, i.e. the transition from daycare to preschool or preschool to kindergarten or ½ day kindergarten to all day first grade, etc.
2. Determine Your Plans
- If your child is at risk for anaphylaxis, then your child is eligible for a 504 Plan. Then decide if you want a 504 Plan or an Individual Health Plan (IHP) or both. (I have both.)
- If not at risk for anaphylaxis, then you want an IHP established.
3. Remain Positive, Vigilant and be Prepared to Partner
- We do the best we can with what we know and the information that is provided. Know that unexpected things can happen; we face them as they come and we’re well equipped to handle anything that comes our way.
Lastly, always be prepared to partner with others. I may be wildly unpopular with those that think advocating is the only way. There’s that old saying, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Getting your point across, in a respectful manner, will not only benefit your youngster and other food allergic children; but your stress levels as well.
Slay your dragon. Happy Planning! Happy Partnering! Happy Summer!
Bio: Kristin Beltaos, M.A., owner of A Gift of Miles, offers coaching/consulting in the areas of stress, food allergies and reproductive challenges. Kristin struggled with infertility and multiple miscarriages and is now a mother to two beautiful boys, one who has multiple food allergies. She firmly believes that humor can diffuse and carry us through almost any situation and relishes being a positive influence to others with these same challenges. Kristin is the creator of a series of workshops focused on living life fully with food allergies. She also wrote and led the implementation of the first 504 Plan for food allergies in her son’s school. She was honored as the November/December 2011 InSeason Mom. Prior to starting her business, Kristin was employed and consulted for a variety of companies in the areas of strategic planning and marketing. To learn more, visit her Website, Blog, Facebook and Twitter.