Kids with Food Allergies: Being Aware... with Compassion
On the last day of April, I coached my last Special Olympics practice — the end of a six-year-era. In lieu of a wind-up outing, due to a shortened season, I picked up cupcakes for our athletes and we let them pick all the games. Aware of one athlete with a peanut/tree nut allergy, I re-checked our athletes’ medical information in our online portal, and headed off to practice with allergy-safe treats — peanut, tree nut, and milk-free mini-cupcakes and peanut/tree nut-free mini unicorn cookies. We let our athletes pick the games, wrapped up with the parachute, and headed outside for cupcakes — no food in the gym!
An allergy story...beyond the food allergy itself
As our athletes put their jackets on and headed outside, the mom of our kiddo with food allergies approached me and quietly asked if the treats were peanut and tree nut-free. I gave her a big smile and reassured her, “Yes of course! The cupcakes are peanut, tree nut, and milk-free, and the cookies are peanut and tree-nut free.”
Her relief was clear, and I thought — like every food allergy parent — she just wanted to confirm!
A food allergy scare
While her son happily enjoyed a couple mini cupcakes, she came and spoke to me again. I should have known there was a story (or a hundred!) behind her relief that her son could be included in our end-of-season treats was so palpable! It turns out, at a celebration party for the students in her son’s class, she walked in to find him with a Tim Horton’s donut in his hand, and no safe food options around. She had to take the donut away from her son and instead take him to the vending machine for chips because there were no safe snacks for him at his own class celebration!
As I watched her son, who is 11 and has autism, happily dance in the reflection of the window after eating his cupcakes, I was so frustrated for both of them — never mind how they both must have felt for him to be excluded from the party in a totally preventable way! For her as a mom, not knowing if her kid can be safe at school. For him, for just probably feeling different again, and perhaps not fully being able to grasp the true danger of his anaphylactic allergies… And like all kids, just wanting to participate like everybody else in an earned celebration!
Taking responsibility for kids with food allergies
Keeping kids with food allergies safe means taking responsibility, period. For kids with food allergies, responsibility means reading every label, every time, in case things have changed. It means respecting what just has to be done to keep a kid with food allergies safe — which is avoiding the allergen completely.
If I, as a coach, am taking responsibility for their safety in one way — in sport — I am taking responsibility in all other ways as well, and I would expect that teachers and school staff are, too. If, as a coach — or a teacher or school — I am adding the extra responsibility upon myself to host a party, then I’m by that choice taking responsibility for everything that comes with it. It may take a few minutes but it is not difficult to find creative ways to ensure all are safe and included!
Some would say “common sense isn’t common”... I would consider that, in many instances like these, it more accurately needs to be taught!
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