Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Allergy Awareness Week and #livinginfear - top tips for teachers

This week is Allergy Awareness Week and this year Allergy UK are focussing on the fear most people with severe allergies live in every single day of their lives.

Did you know?

BRITAIN is in the grip of a major allergy crisis, with millions of sufferers at risk of dying because of a terrifying lack of life-saving awareness among the public? And those not at risk from life threatening allergic reactions are living compromised lives in fear of chronic pain and illness?


Allergy UK are raising awareness of the fears of allergy sufferers this week and are asking people to get involved on Twitter. You can join the awareness campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #livinginfear and tweeting a picture of yourself with your biggest fear. My allergies are hugely restricting though and have had a massive impact on my life- and continue to do so. But as a mum, my biggest fears are for my children, who are more profoundly affected by allergy. 
So here's my photo:-



Children with food allergies can feel isolated in school as well as elsewhere. So much of their lives, of our society revolves around sharing food. And as with children who suffer from disabilities or chronic illness children with food allergies often lack independence. Food is a basic human need, but for kids with food allergies this basic daily task is fraught with anxiety and the need for constant vigilance. It’s also a fundamental step in growing up to gradually sever the feeding bond with your mum, but imagine if your mum was the only person you could trust to feed you? It’s pretty restricting. My nine year old twins rely on me totally for their food, school cannot cater for them and neither it seems can anywhere else. They are most definitely very “attached” to me still, and I now understand why. (You can read more about food allergy and independence here.)

Isolation in school is a particular concern for me, my children are mostly well accommodated in school but cannot participate in cooking sessions, many trips, school lunches etc and constantly feel "different". Other parents are anxious about inviting them home to play as food is such an integral part of entertaining, and consequently they feel even more isolated in school.

So here are my "Top Tips" for teachers (I was one once too!) to help reduce isolation in school:-
  1. Plan ahead. Most mums of kids with allergies will bend over backwards to help their child and will be only too happy to provide ingredients, advice and reassurance. (Just don’t contact them late the night before you are baking to request a list of ingredients!)

  2. Listen. Mums really do know their children best and are usually just following instructions from health professionals. Whilst there are undoubtedly a few who are over anxious and possibly ill-informed the vast majority will have genuine concern and want to keep their child safe - whilst not wanting to restrict the enjoyment of any other child in the class.

  3. Keep food treats in school to a minimum, or (as our children’s teachers did) plan ahead and ask for a safe treat for the allergic child.

  4. Ensure safety doesn’t stop fun. It’s vital all children are safe in school, but that doesn’t mean children cannot have fun. Safety must also be age appropriate too. So at age nine my twins can cope with baking something they know they must not eat, but are supervised when they do. A Reception age child could never cope with this! Similarly, making the child who carries an Epipen for a dairy allergy your class milk monitor isn’t a very wise idea!! (It happened to us though!)

  5. Avoid making the child who IS different feel different. Pretty obvious, but subtlety is key. Substituting safe chocolate in the class advent calendar and making a note of the date for the allergic child to take it is far, far better than leaving them to come to you to swap their treat in front of others.

  6. Food still needs to be fun though, and even children with allergies need positive experiences with and around food. You can substitute many ingredients easily, there are recipes for children on exclusion diets on The Recipe Resource ( http://thereciperesource.blogspot.co.uk) and lots of other sites too!

  7. Tackle the “Healthy Eating” message tactfully. With recent research to demonstrate that fats are not always the bad guys, the message is becoming slightly blurred anyway, but children with food allergies are missing important proteins from their diet, and often important fats too. Our twins were wisely told by a senior dietician that they need plenty of fatty foods like chips, and oils like olive and hemp oil in their diet as they are dairy free (amongst other things) and miss the natural fats present in dairy food.

  8. Don’t judge. I was once asked why there were concerns about my daughter’s growth when she was clearly very chubby, and that she looked really healthy. Children are all different, but children with food allergies, especially the non IgE ones are prone to poor growth. Poor absorption leads to poor growth - and the body needs to gain mass before it is able to grow upwards. My kids were short and chubby for a long time, sadly it wasn’t a sign of health at all. It’s stressful enough as a parent to navigate life with a child with food allergies, judgement from others is hard to take.

  9. Expect to see more of the parents of kids’ with food allergies. They are not overly fussy, and need reassurance as much as their children. They are your best allies for a smooth year with an allergic child in your class, and dislike being the “bad penny” often feeling embarrassed ad in the way. Any reassurance is much appreciated!

  10. Educate. Obviously - you’re a teacher :) But a tiny bit of knowledge for the allergic child’s peers goes a long way to helping them feel one of the class. There is a simple explanation aimed at Key Stage 1 children here.

Allergies have a serious impact on sufferer's lives, and they are certainly life changing, but we can and should limit the fear they live in. Unfortunately the current situation is almost unbearable for some, and as the excellent article in The Guardian last week explains ignorance about allergy is not helping. This is why awareness is key.

20 comments:

  1. The seriousness of allergies is so worrying. A really helpful set of tips here x

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  2. There are a couple of children in Kitty's class with food allergies and she seems very aware of just what it is they are allergic to and why it's important that they don't come into contact with it. I think the children in a class are often more aware than the parents as we are only informed via our children and they aren't always that great at sharing information x

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  3. I have a nephew with a nut allergy and I have friends who have children with allergies. My sons school carries a strict no nut policy as you just never know if a child will develop a sudden reaction!

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  4. I think the last point is possibly the one to shout about the most x

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  5. This is a really great post. I think it must be really difficult to live with children with allergies. I have a number of them and am so glad that my boys don't.

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  6. In can imagine that allergies can make you feel isolated. My children have no food allergies but my husband once went into anaphylactic shock and needed emergency treatment. It was very frightening and we never found out what the cause was.

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  7. Some great tips here. It must be so worrying to have children with series allergies.

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  8. Our school is excellent at allergy awareness. I make sure I ask for any allergies for each party my boys have. I would never want to risk anyones health.

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  9. Tis is a great post, I have a few allergies and it's important that people are aware how serious they can be xx

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing this. You have really opened my eyes to food allergies.
    So many great tips and being as my child is at an age where she will be starting school soon, this list has been very beneficial.

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  11. These are brilliant. My OH has intolerances (although they are very severe so it feels almost like an allergy) so I know a little about how hard it can be. Great post.

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  12. Some fantastic tips, i think being open and honest to keep communication open will only help too

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  13. My son is massively allergic to hayfever. It sounds crazy but each year he ends up being in hospital because of hayfever. School don't really get it.

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  14. Great tips, allergies are so important!

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  15. we hace allergy bands at school and have lists and the kitchen are aware x

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  16. A great post and some really helpful tips for teachers...I just wish they read them! Sorry I haven't been over for so long...not sure where time goes. Love the new look xx

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  17. A great post
    It can only imagine how hard living with many allergies can be

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  18. Great post - I am lactose intolerant - it's not life threatening, thank goodness x

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  19. If people stopped eating so much processed food the allergies wouldn't be a problem. Most people have no idea what they put on theirs or their children plate.

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  20. The Mother says - A great post with some amazing tips and pieces of advice. I suffer from food allergies and was always really worried that Lucas would suffer too. Thankfully he doesn't although he does still try to convince me that he's allergic to vegetables!! Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo

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Many thanks for taking the time to comment!

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