Friday, February 12, 2010

"Just" Teach Your Children Well

It's been a while since I've ranted a bit about food allergies, and I'm quite certain you've been pining for a good old-fashioned food allergy rant from little ol' me, so I'm happy to oblige.

Before I get started, does anyone know how to read Japanese? Brendan's cousin, who is living in Japan (her husband is in the USAF), helped out with the Flat Ryan Project (an update on that soon, promise). She sent us lots of information about Okinawa, some real shisa (who now hold a place of honor on our mantelpiece with our other gargoyles), and lots and lots of yummy-looking treats! And we have no way of reading the labels. :( I have an idea that peanut usage in Japan is much less than in other areas of Asia, but I don't really know that for certain. Anyway, if you have a lead, let me know!

Now on to my rant . . .

A couple of weeks ago, Free Range Kids ran a story about one school's ridiculous (I think) food rule outlawing apples and pears with peels intact, due to the possible choking hazard that apparently exists. I don't know . . . isn't all food kind of a choking hazard? My toddler is still has trouble with yogurt sometimes. I suppose it's a risk you need to take, in order to get, you know, nourishment for your body.

The conversation in the comments touched on some food allergy issues (which were mentioned in the post), and I was moved to actually write a comment. Somebody wrote, in part:

As long as you don’t smear it [peanut butter] across the allergy kid’s face or shove it down their throat there is no actual hazard to protect them from.

This is not strictly true, as those who live with food allergies know (and hopefully those who have read about this stuff here on my blog). I had to think about whether to respond or not, because sometimes people get all riled up and want to argue. I decided to leave one, and only one comment, and not to get engaged in a pointless debate. So I said:

That is not true. Some kids (not all) are contact sensitive and will have a reaction if they touch the allergen.

Apart from that, though, residue is a big concern. You know how kids (even responsible kids who ought to know better) spread germs around like crazy? When they touch a germ-contaminated surface and then touch their faces or mouths, they can contract the illness.

Kids with severe allergies can accidentally ingest trace amounts of allergens in precisely the same manner. Only instead of a cold, the consequences can be life-threatening.

All I'm interested in doing is educating people--there's a lot of misinformation out there, so I feel like I should do my part in correcting some of that. It's a way in which I can support my son.

I only checked back once (okay, twice, including today). Most of the comments have to do with the ridiculous ban on peels. Some remarks about food allergies (not necessarily directed at my comment) include [my emphasis]:

I mean, doesn’t this kid bring his or her own food? Isn’t it taught to watch out for him/herself?

@Rational Jenn: While people might be so allergic that even contact can cause a severe reaction, it’s still not a good reason to ban the offending foodstuff altogether. Just teach the kids in the school to handle them responsibly. The increase in allergies has, by some scientists, been linked to the constantly increasing fear of germs. Because kids are less and less exposed to germs early on in their life, their immune system doesn’t evolve as it should. [Obviously this one was directed at my comment.]

One of my three children has strange reactions to pretty much anything with food coloring in it. What have we done – teach him to decline such things when offered! I understand the peanut thing, but pretty much everything else doesn’t cause life-or-death situations, and can be fixed by teaching the child to refuse.

If your child is allergic to something, they should be taught to avoid that allergen and if very young, the teachers should certainly know about it. But it shouldn’t affect the entire school’s eating habits.

But he has come home with the chocolate in his lunch because the lunch monitor wouldn’t “let” eat it. Also they are constantly telling the kids not to trade food. I just tell me boys “not to get caught”. I loved trading lunch items. I think grade school kids can figure out what they can’t eat.

Okay then. The general idea of these posters is that we food allergy parents "just" need to teach our kids how to avoid their allergen, and then everything will be hunky-dory, and nobody else's meal choices need to be affected.

Well why didn't I think of that? Starting right now, I'm going to teach Ryan about peanuts:

  • how to read the word,
  • how to find the word on a label,
  • how to ask grownups for help,
  • how to question each and every food item that he is offered,
  • how to question a manufacturer's labeling practices and make a decision based on the level of confidence he has with the manufacturer based on their previous labeling practices,
  • how to know that just because something is labeled doesn't mean that the food inside the package matches that label,
  • how to avoid "may contains" or "processed in a facility" items because of the severity of his allergy and the real risk to his LIFE that those items pose,
  • how to pay attention to what other kids at co-op or the playground may have been eating and where they might have wiped their hands so he can avoid it,
  • how to hold his arms down by his side at a grocery store with open bins of peanuts,
  • how to call a restaurant and find out whether or not they use peanuts in their food,
  • how to call an airline and find out if they are still handing out peanuts to the passengers and whether or not they'll forego the peanuts if he's on that flight,
  • how to say 'no' to grandma and our neighbor and friends who may very kindly and with good intentions offer him something that he's not sure about--possibly hurting their feelings (because people get their feelings hurt when you say 'no' to food for some reason),
  • how to say 'thank you' graciously to someone who has gone out of their way to be thoughtful and pick out a treat that is peanut-safe--only to go home and give it away or throw it away, because we don't really know if that treat is safe or not--yet feel happy that someone cared enough to try, because not everyone does,
  • how to use an Epi-pen, which has a scary, thick, inch-long needle that must be used within minutes of a serious reaction in order to give him a fighting chance for life.

What a wonderful idea! Why didn't I think of . . . wait a minute . . . I HAVE BEEN TEACHING HIM THESE THINGS! From the second we left the hospital when he was only 25 months old. First I'd educate myself, then Brendan, then Ryan--and now his siblings are undergoing an education of their own. And his friends. And his family. He understands all of this, and he understands what's at stake.

So I have "just" taught him. But here is another point--he is seven-and-a-half years old. Old Enough to Know Better, perhaps?

Let me paint a picture for you here. Imagine if you will, a health scare, such as, oh I don't know . . . let's call it "swine flu." It's spreading like wildfire among the kids at the local elementary school, and making kids (and adults) really, really sick.

Well I say, send your kid to school anyway! Yup! Just teach him to avoid germs! Teach him how to sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away. Teach him how to cough into his elbow. Teach him not to touch his eyes or mouth or nose. Teach him how to wash his hands thoroughly. Teach him when to wash his hands--after touching doorknobs or the lunch table or his desk or fellow classmates. Teach him not to borrow a pencil from the kid at the desk next to him. Teach him not to share his food or drink at lunch time.

He'll be fine right? Oh wait a minute . . . he's in second grade? About seven or eight years old? Hmmm . . . . And yes, you've taught him well, sure, and he's ALWAYS perfect in following these rules--especially the 'no touching your eyes and nose and mouth' rule. Uh-huh.

But what about those other kids? You know, the ones who manage to sneeze a hot mess of snot across the lunchroom? The ones who lick drinking fountains? The ones who like to give big friendly hugs to their buddies?

So you'd really be comfortable sending your seven or eight year old into a swine flu (or regular flu or pertussis or ebola or what-have-you) infested school, because you've "just" taught him right?

Yeah. THAT'S all I'm sayin'.

And don't even get me started about the Hygiene Hypothesis! (Here's a small hint: It doesn't mean what you think it means!!!! My house is not a place Howard Hughes would have ever come within 100 feet of!!!)


Jennifer B said...

Great post! It's so tough to to get through to people when even some doctors don't seem to "get it"! Frustrating.

I love how you make your points and with humor! Thanks for writing this post.

Kelly Elmore said...

You said it! Life threatening danger? Seven year old level of responsibility? Adult help needed. Teaching not enough. End of story.

brendan said...

"...sneeze a hot mess of snot across the lunchroom..." is the funniest thing I've read in a *while*. You definitely painted a word-picture there.

9to5to9 said...

Oh my. I have had it up to my EARS with the "just teach your kids" comments. Particularly since I've done exactly that with my allergic child since he was diagnosed at age 10 months. Still, he's only 6. Yes, he needs help, not parents who send Reese's Cups to school for Valentine's Day. The upside: My son and his teacher did the right thing. But I wonder how the peanut parent would have reacted if I'd sent heart-shaped bottles of Drano, confident that that parent had taught his or her kid to do the right thing and that the kid was capable of executing those lessons flawlessly.

Thanita Glancey said...

Great post! It never gets old, these comments. I swear right when you think you've heard it all there's more!!! Your post has inspired me to write a similar post on my blog but I have included a 20/20 video that parallels what our food allergic kids are dealing with. It's about kids and guns and why they don't stay away even when taught strict avoidance. Sound familiar?!

Let me know what you think!


Kapaa said...

I don't know about YOUR epipen but mine sure doesn't have an "inch" long needle on it. Your child will never be socially adept if you force them into the "allergy" corner. It's a disability. Have them learn their disability and move on. My daughter has allergies and she is not a social outcast at school as others who have similar. The parents make these kids a mess. an "inch" long needle. stop.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks everyone!

Kapaa--I stand humbly corrected before your superior knowledge. I just fired off one of our expired Epis and measured the needle. It's half an inch long, which is still pretty freaking long. My husband's insulin needles are much smaller and thinner. Excuse me very much for not being adept at measuring from memory.

I have NO CLUE what you mean by making my kid socially inadept and "forcing him into the allergy corner."

Clearly we're screwing him even worse, socially, because we homeschool. No "allergy corner" here--we're freaks by definition!

No, he is not a mess, and deals with his allergy just fine, thankyouverymuch.

The main crux of my post STILL STANDS. Go pick your nits elsewhere.

Jenny said...

Go Jenn!! You had me laughing at your humor and shaking my head at people's ignorance.

Hey Kappa: "Allergy corner"...whatevs!!!!!

BTW, my child has never been a social outcast w/regard to her allergy and that's just abusive to talk that way. Kappa, come on admit it: your child doesn't have a food allergy, you're just rabble rousing.

Hey 9to5to9--"heart shaped bottles of Drano" was very evocative and true! I love the imagery.

You ladies make me laugh--we have to laugh at this nonsense or we'd cry in frustration.

Daisy said...

Great post! I agree 100%.

Kelly Elmore said...

Ryan can come and stand in my corner anytime. Kapaa is not invited cause my corner is for people with empathy.

christinemm said...

Great rant. Very rational. Have a great night. TGIF.

eeeegads said...

As a girl scout leader, I have had my share of encounters with allergies. It definitely isn't as simple as "just move on". When you deal with an entire classroom of kids, or even small group of children at camp, you not only have to make sure the allery sufferer knows what to do, but also other adults, teachers, leaders, and especially other kids. It's a pretty big task and an even bigger responsibility. Definitly not just an "accept it and move on" scenario.

As far as the length of the needle... Whether it's 1/2 in or 3 inches, it's still a needle and a kid is a kid. No kid I know likes shots, much less entering anaphalxis and then getting a shot. The issue isn't the size of the needle, but having to use it at all.

smoovegeek said...

I read Japanese. Why don't you post a photo of your label(s)?

Jennifer Snow said...

I have noticed that the "hygiene thing" DOES seem to have been a factor with my respiratory allergies to dust and pet dander, but I haven't exactly done a controlled trial so who knows. I just know that over the years my allergies have become less severe and now are even almost unnoticeable.

Guess I got lucky.

Lissa said...

Oh I do so love this post! I just love how people's expectations for FA kids is astonomically higher than for other kids. Granted, mine is only (almost) 3, but I don't know at what age you can reasonably expect a child to understand, remember and execute a total avoidance plan. The heart shaped drano comment nailed it. They're kids. They encounter candy or cookies or cupcakes that a friendly (often well meaning) adult is offering. Try to walk the line of teaching to respect and listen to adults, but to question and avoid such tempting offerings. Kappa clearly is laboring under a common misconception that s/he understands food allergy life b/c their kid(s) have a perceived sensitivity to a food or food dye,or whatever. Cuz that's the same thing as a life threatening allergy.

Ryan said...

Great post, and the Howard Hughes comment was hilarious!

Do you have a list of peanut allergy safe treats or perhaps a link to a list that you agree with (trust)? I thought it might be handy to have for future encounters with kids with peanut allergies. I like to be prepared.

It may seem odd for me to ask since my family currently has no friends with food allergies, but my interest stems from nearly killing my girlfriend when I was 18 because I wasn't fully aware of the danger. I had made myself a PB&J and used the same knife for both jars. She later had a severe reaction from using the jelly. It turned out ok and she forgave me, but it's scary to think how it might have turned out.

AiXeLsyD13 said...

Wow. I can't imagine how scary it has to be to look out for a kid with all the idiots out there. I worry enough about myself.

Love the blog and the sentiment.

I'll be RT-ing this! Ha ha.

MariaH said...

Love the post and the approach to the common response from those who don't "get it" and think they know how to live everyday with life-threatening allergies. Great job.