As you all know, I strongly support the need for food allergy education in school. The non-profit Allergy and Asthma Network (AANMA) recently picked up one of my articles on the subject for their publication, “Asthma and Allergy Today.”
Here’s a link to my article in their Spring 2016 issue: Thank You For Being a Friend.
Or, read it below. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, on our Facebook page, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org:
- I’d love to hear your thoughts on:
- What your school is doing right;
- Any issues you or your child has faced as a result of insufficient food allergy information/education;
- Suggestions you have for schools/teachers to create a safer, more inclusive school environment;
- General comments.
Thank you as always for your support!
Thank You For Being a Friend
published in Allergy & Asthma Today – Spring 2016
By Erin Malawer
Walking through the halls of an elementary school, you might see inspirational bulletin boards, posters promoting “School Spirit Week,” perhaps a donation box for clothes or backpacks.
You would not expect to see a whole walnut rolling around on the floor. That’s what some students at my son’s elementary school found recently. At first they didn’t even know what it was.
One of the students bent down to inspect it. “Hey,” he yelled to my 10-year- old son, who is allergic to tree nuts. “Come over here. Is this a walnut?”
Feeling a little nervous, my son backed away, explaining that he, of all people, is not qualified to be a nut inspector. A classmate, a girl also diagnosed with food allergies, stepped in to remind everyone about my son’s allergies. Soon after, the kids began to file into their classroom. Somehow the nut followed them.
My son’s deskmate grabbed the walnut and teased him with it, waving the walnut close to his face saying, “Oooooh … A walnut.”
My son began to speak up – we had practiced for these types of situations at home. The same girl quickly interjected, “Are you crazy? He’s ALLERGIC to nuts! He could go to the hospital!”
My son wasn’t harmed. But he WAS upset when I picked him up from the bus.
“Mom,” he said, “I know I seem really tough – like my feelings are as thick as a wall. But inside, they can be as thin as paper.”
We discussed what he was feeling, things he would have liked to have said, how thankful he was to have a friend like the girl who stood up for him. He felt sure his classmates acted out of misunderstanding or lack of education, rather than malice.
This incident was innocent enough. The first boy was curious; the second boy truly didn’t understand the potential consequences of his actions. He thought my son would join in on the joke because they are friends.
I asked the school if I could come into the classroom to teach the kids about food allergies – and they agreed. The students were attentive and engaged, and had intelligent questions. They were very sympathetic to how difficult it is to manage food allergies.
Both boys apologized to my son, explaining they had no idea about the severity of allergic reactions.
In the end, the incident brought my son and his classmates closer together. Looking back, it’s very easy to imagine a different outcome. But as my husband rightly points out, “Kids WANT to do the right thing and be supportive. Sometimes they don’t have enough facts to know how.”
Statistically, there are two students in every classroom with food allergies. But that number is growing. We need to teach our kids the facts about this condition, so they can act appropriately. And we need to teach them to be supportive of each other. A lesson in food allergies is a lesson in empathy – and it just might save a life.
If your school doesn’t include food allergy education in their health curriculum, I encourage you to volunteer your time to do it yourself.