Every day a child is diagnosed with a serious and sometimes deadly food allergy.
Protection and vigilance is key to keeping them safe. These children are entering the 2012-2013 school year with potentially life threatening conditions. Long Island schools are being challenged to not only keep food-allergic kids out of harm’s way, but to also keep them from being bullied.
According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website, “a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows that 5.9 million American children have food allergies. Of those, 39 percent have a history of severe reactions and 30 percent have multiple food allergies”. Moreover, these children are becoming victims of bullying.
Bullying due to food allergies is increasing. There are reports of food allergic children being dared to eat what they are allergic to and being harassed if they refuse. One parent said that when her peanut-allergic son was in elementary school, he was harassed every day, to the point that a student rubbed peanut butter on his neck. The boy’s parents kept meeting with school officials who apologized but failed to protect him.
The bullying became so emotionally debilitating and dangerous that he was forced to move to another school. Another mom explained what happened when her peanut-allergic son sat at an allergy table at his elementary school. Children with food allergies at his school are able to invite a friend to sit with them as long as the friend’s lunch is peanut-free. Everything was fine at the beginning of school, but his friends soon lost interest in being separated from their classmates in order to sit with him. Lunchtime became a source of anxiety and sadness for the boy.
The family was required to get letters from their allergist and signed legal documents so the boy could sit at a regular lunch room table. Things got a little better for him socially, but his parents fear that he will be exposed to allergens. “Allergy Tables” as safe zones may help keep these children from being exposed to an allergen. However, some parents feel this is unfair isolation that can lead to social issues, such as depression, anxiety and bullying. Other parents want their children to sit at an allergy table to keep them safe from exposure.
Chris Weiss, vice president for Advocacy and Government Relations, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) says, “There are all different types of seating. There is no right way. It has to be what parents are comfortable with.”
Parents of food-allergic kids often struggle in keeping their child safe from bullying. Many times, parents and their children are left feeling stressed, alone and misunderstood. Aside from the threat of bullying, children have to deal with the threat of coming into contact with their allergen at school.
Ammaria Johnson was just seven when she was fed a peanut product by another student at her Virginia school. She died as a result. Katelyn Carlson, 13 died after eating Chinese food served at a party at her Chicago school. The constant threat of exposure leaves many parents and children feeling overwhelmed and fearful.
Eleanor Garrow, vice president, Education and Outreach for FAAN says parents should work towards cooperation with the school to educate staff and other parents about food allergies. Garrow, herself a parent of a food allergic child, recommends holding sessions for students or educating them through an assembly. “Children want to learn to keep their friends safe. They ask great questions.”
Check out Part II of my blog in coming days. It will contain solutions for parents on how to keep their child safe at school and free from bullying.