Skip to main content

Fostering a Culture of Inclusion in Schools

It's that time again... Back to School!

I, for one, relish the newly found silence in my home in the afternoon. I am also happy in the confidence that my boys are learning and playing and enjoying school again. I like knowing that the sweltering days of summer will soon transition into pleasant autumn evenings.

However, I know that back to school season brings on very different emotions for parents of children with life-threatening food allergies. These feelings range from fear and anxiety at being separated from a child with medical needs, to frustration with the necessary mounds of paperwork that constitute school health forms, and apprehension about what some might term "the little things": Will my child have someone to sit with at lunch? What if someone at the middle school starts a food fight, and throws a PB& J? How will my 5 year old handle it, when at the end of a long day of kindergarten, a classmate shares cupcakes with everyone as a birthday treat (everyone except him)? What will I do if the PTA organizer insists on using an ice cream brand for the open house social that is known to have cross-contamination issues?

In my work as a pediatric allergist, I have come across of a wide variety of ways that children with life-threatening food allergies are excluded in the name of safety. Here are a few examples:

1) A class was rewarded for good behavior by being permitted to eat lunch in the classroom instead of in the lunchroom. When the teacher discovered that a number of children had peanut or tree nuts in their lunches, my patient's desk was pushed into the corner of the room to keep him separated from the allergens. Classmates were rewarded. He was punished.

2) A teacher mentioned to a mom that it might be a good idea if a tree nut-allergic student remain home on the day of the field trip, as there would be walnut trees in the park they were planning to visit, and the teacher couldn't guarantee that a chaperone would be able to monitor the student closely enough for the teacher's comfort.

3) A student with a food allergy was identified by name in a letter that went home to parents stating that only fruits and vegetables could be sent as snacks or treats into the classroom. This resulted in a classmate stating to my patient, "My mom says it's your fault that we can't have any good food for the holiday party, and you should just be home-schooled."

The common thread in these scenarios is that each child was isolated or excluded. Now, don't get all up in a knot saying, "They are going to have to learn how to go without eventually!"

Parents of kids with food allergies understand that their kids will one day have to learn that part of the reality of living with allergy is that you can't always have what other people are having. We start teaching that as soon as they are old enough to understand the concept. As children grow older, this is continually reinforced by families and health care professionals. We teach kids to advocate for themselves.

Young children, however, deserve to learn in an environment that is not only safe, but also as inclusive as possible. Sitting alone at lunch, being the only kid who gets a bag of crackers instead of a cupcake, having to miss out on special activities, leaving the soccer game before the snack, being identified as the reason for other children's "deprivation" - these things add up very quickly in the psyche of a young child and create a profound sense of otherness. It IS worth the extra effort it takes to develop non-food rewards and celebrations. It IS worth the extra thought required to ensure that we aren't just keeping our kids physically healthy, but also emotionally healthy.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes many arms to envelop children in a circle of safety and acceptance. It takes the strength of many to lift our children up so they can look to the future and envision possibilities beyond the immediate.

So, when you are planning that holiday party, or open house event, or fundraiser, or field trip - please ask yourself, "Am I doing everything I can to ensure that all the children in the school feel equally valued and worthy?"

It may just be something on your task list, but to a kid, it can mean the world.


Popular posts from this blog

Keratosis Pilaris - Or, Why My Kid Looks Like a Plucked Chicken

The skin is the body's largest organ. The condition of the skin is, in many ways, a window into our internal health. Therefore, it is only natural that people become immediately concerned by rashes. We often neglect our own elevated blood pressure, achey joints, or other ailments. The onset of a new rash, on the other hand, can quickly lead to a call to the doctor.

Interestingly, there is one rash I see in my practice which rarely causes alarm among patients and parents. In fact, it is common for a parent to state, "Oh, that? His sister has that too. In fact, so do I!"

Keratosis Pilaris is a common, heritable disorder which results in small bumps consisting of accumulated skin cells and keratin at the sites of hair follicles. It is especially common in people who have a history of allergies.
Although it can be mildly itchy, the rash generally does not cause discomfort. Commonly described as "gooseflesh", keratosis pilaris can be a concern cosmetically, leading…

Please Participate in A Study on Psychosocial Coping in Food Allergy

Dear Food Allergy Families,

Please consider participating in the following study intended to explore the psychosocial coping needs of families with food allergy. As anyone who is living with food allergies understands, the psychological impacts of living with a potentially life-threatening condition are incredibly important, but sadly, often given short shrift in the context of limited time available during healthcare maintenance visits.

Participating in this study is an opportunity to contribute to our knowledge base about the strategies families utilize to cope with the diagnosis. Thank you!



We want to invite you to participate in an exciting study researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are conducting to explore the thoughts, emotions, and coping strategies individuals and families have and use as they manage food allergies. Led by Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, the goal of this research study…

When Food Allergy Treatments are Sensationalized, it is the Allergist's Role to Bring Us All Back Down to Earth

Sharing a recent post from my practice Facebook page, in response to concerns raised by the recent publication of a meta analysis on anaphylaxis rates during food allergen oral immunotherapy:
I hope my comments are helpful at proving some context for patients currently pursuing or consider food allergen desensitization therapy. 
I am a non-alarmist by nature, and feel it is 100% possible to integrate new data without falling prey to the sensationalization of these publications by the media. It is frustrating to read in the news one day, "Researchers find CURE for peanut allergies!" (WRONG!!!) and the next day read "Experimental treatment for food allergy causes more life-threatening reactions than avoidance!" (Hmmm...a bit misleading). No nuance, no thoughtfulness, no concern for the impact of such a black & white approach to a decidedly grey issue. And why would there be? Nuance …