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Our disabled son cannot eat chocolate. He is allergic to it. While food allergies to chocolate doesn’t cause anaphylactic shock and is not deadly to him, it does cause him to suffer from extreme, uncontrollable diarrhea. Because he is disabled and non-verbal, he cannot advocate for himself or communicate this risk. He also does not say no when someone offers him chocolate.
Chocolate is not one of those things kids are typically allergic to, and it can be really difficult to get people to believe you. The bus driver at Halloween will think, “What’s the harm in letting him have a little bag of M & Ms?” or the teacher’s aide at school will feel bad when all the other kids get chocolate and our son does not. We’ve had to be downright adamant – up to and including the threat of making them come clean up after him – to make it clear how very serious we are about keeping our son from having chocolate. We communicated regularly with our son’s teachers and anyone else who came in contact with him (including friends) about the allergy.
Imagine how much scarier it is for a parent whose child could die from exposure to peanuts or other food allergies? Imagine the fear that must be with that parent when sending the child to school. What can a parent do to ensure their child’s safety?
Communication is crucial, and not just with the classroom teacher before school even starts. Parents may even need to talk to or provide guidance for other parents. Our daughter’s classroom had to be nut-free to accommodate a child’s allergy, and it took all of the parents of all of the students in the classroom to comply. The parents of the child with the nut allergy provided a list of “safe” (nut-free) candies and treats that could be brought in for Halloween and birthday parties.
Parents need to be advocates for their kids, talking to the administration, the cafeteria, the bus driver, and other teachers who might come in contact with the student. Parents can require the school implement a 504 Plan or Individual Healthcare Plan to accommodate needs. . In case of exposure, the school should not only have an epi pen available but have several staff trained in how to use it.
The School’s Role
The school needs to do their part, too. This includes:
- posting signs in nut-free classrooms
- sending letters home to parents explaining the requirements
- establishing a nut-free zone in the cafeteria
- making every accommodation possible to prevent the accidental contact with nut-containing foods
According to the CDC, 4-6% of kids have serious food allergies. It takes all of us to protect them.