As You Get Older, Back-to-School Preparedness Evolves
From preschool through high school, managing my food allergies has changed significantly.
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Avery Kuhn
As someone who has had numerous very serious food allergies my entire life, navigating school is something that obviously has been a challenge. As a result, back-to-school season is a time when I need to have a plan for managing my allergies. From sitting at the peanut-free table in early elementary school to navigating the process on my own in high school, managing allergies throughout the years has changed significantly. I am now a senior in high school, and after years of trial and error, I have no worries about handling my allergies this school year.
In preschool, my parents communicated with the teachers well in advance and would arrange special snacks and meals to be sent in for me. My parents also chose a preschool that had a nut-free policy and was well informed about food allergies. Another thing I did in preschool was wear a bracelet that identified that I have food allergies, and what they were.
In elementary school, my parents would always meet with teachers and the school nurse before the school year began to make sure they were aware of my allergies and could help me always stay safe while at school. My parents also sent in EpiPens to the nurse's office at the start of each year.
In kindergarten and most of first grade, I would sit at the peanut-free table during lunch in order to make sure I was safe from being around peanuts and additional allergens when I was at an age where I could not manage myself as well. My parents would also bring in a batch of cupcakes to put in the school freezer. Then, when a classmate had a birthday party and brought in treats, my teacher would bring me a cupcake and I would have something safe to eat. For events like field trips, or class parties, my parents would usually talk with the chaperones and teacher about the food provided on the trip and would work out a way to get me safe food.
Eventually, as I grew older, I was able to sit with everyone else. After first grade, I began to carry my own treats that I could eat myself when someone brought in birthday treats. As elementary school progressed, after setting up good processes with the school, I was able to better manage my own allergies with less intervention from my parents and teachers.
By the time I got to middle school, back to school became a less stressful experience as I was able to mostly manage my own allergies and know what I could and couldn't eat. By middle school, classmates stopped bringing in treats for their birthday, making one less thing I had to worry about when going back to school. We would still drop off our EpiPens at the nurse's office at the beginning of each year, but the parent-teacher meetings about my allergies were no more.
Once high school rolled around, I could self-carry my EpiPens at school and did not have to involve school administration in helping manage my allergies as I did when I was younger. High school has been smooth sailing so far, and I have had a very easy time managing my food allergies during the school day and at field trips and sports practices. The more challenging part is navigating food allergies in social settings where adults are not there as backup. That is a topic for another blog post!