The LeMmons’ doctor helped them come up with a one-page plan to give to family and friends. The plan includes a list of foods Rachel will react to, words to watch out for on ingredient labels, unexpected sources of allergens (such as Duraflame logs and mousetraps), and, most importantly, reaction symptoms and how to treat them. The page also contains a list of treats Rachel can have.
They gave this plan to Rachel’s teachers, friends, extended family members, and Primary teachers. “It’s a lot to teach people right up front if they’ve never dealt with food allergies, so having it on one easy page is important,” said LeMmon.
While the first few years may be difficult, things get easier with time. “It’s important for parents to know it gets better,” said LeMmon. “Now Rachel can read and look out for herself, and that was a great hurdle to get over.”
Making It Fun
The truth is that kids with allergies aren’t like everyone else—and your child’s understanding of this is key to his or her health and safety. But as parents, you can do a lot to make your child feel special rather than negatively singled out.
One way the LeMmons have done this is by having a special “safe” treat box in Rachel’s class at school. “When other kids bring birthday treats I usually can’t have it, but I can always have something from my box. And sometimes it’s better than everyone else’s!” says 9-year-old Rachel.
Creative shirts made for kids with allergies are great for whenever you leave your child at a birthday party, church activity, or play date. (Kids may like the shirts so much that they’ll want to wear them more often.) Babies and toddlers should stick with straightforward designs with messages like “I have food allergies. Ask my mommy before you feed me,” but older kids may get a kick out of shirts with messages like, “Allergy Alert! This Shirt May Contain a Nut” or “Gluten is My Kryptonite.” You can see a great selection at squidoo.com/foodallergyclothes.
And though doctors recommend medical jewelry for kids with severe allergies, there’s no reason for these bracelets to be ugly or uncomfortable. Websites like hahoriginals.com offer a wide range of bracelets designed specifically for kids. Girls can enjoy colorful beaded designs and boys can choose nondescript chain bracelets or trendy dog tags.
What Friends and Family Can Do
More than anything else, parents of kids with food allergies want to be taken seriously. “If you look at a kid with a food allergy, there’s no sign of a disability. There’s no sign that there’s something wrong,” says Michelle Hennessy, whose daughter is allergic to nuts and soy. “But as a parent, you know there’s a risk, and you start seeing food as a weapon. I hate to use the word deadly, but that’s what it can be for your kid. And some people just don’t get that.”
“Sometimes people think we’re being overly dramatic, or that we’re making it up,” agrees LeMmon. “But we’re not. As a mom you just hope people will believe you when you tell them it’s a serious thing.”
When the parents of a child with allergies ask you for help, go out of your way to be understanding. Do all you can to make your home a safe place for that child to come and play. Keep the allergy information posted in a prominent place and learn what to do in case of a reaction. One important thing many don’t realize is that different brands of the same food may have a different effect on a child because of the equipment the food is processed on. For example, Rachel LeMmon can eat Hunt’s pudding snacks but may react to other pudding brands. If you have questions about a brand or food, don’t hesitate to ask the child or parents for help. They’ll be happy to assist you—and they’ll be grateful that you’re taking the allergy seriously.
Even if you have no need to purchase allergen-free foods yourself, try to support brands and restaurants that seek to help people with food allergies. Look for foods that clearly and specifically label what allergens a food may contain, and buy those products instead of products that haven’t made the effort to label as clearly.
One brand that’s received a lot of good media buzz is Caesar’s Pasta. Their nut-free facility makes regular pasta as well as a wheat- and gluten-free line. Hennessy, who acts as Caesar’s director of sales, says, “Being in the food industry is exciting for me on a personal level, to not only create these products but to talk to parents and consumers and say I know how it feels when you find out [your child has allergies].”
Thanks to recent legislation as well as heightened awareness, both manufacturers and restaurants are getting better at labeling and creating allergy-friendly options. “All in all the industry’s really making great strides,” says Hennessy. “They’re definitely trying.”
You can also join with families of food allergy kids in support groups and fundraising events. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) organizes events all over the nation every year. Check out foodallergy.org for more information. Most states also have their own organizations with local chapters that can help you find events near you.
*What’s the hardest part of having a food allergy? Leave a comment below.