Just when it seems that you’ve got one thing under control with an allergic child, something else pops up. My journey started with 2 children allergic to dairy, followed by a peanut reaction, followed by outgrowing the dairy (both girls thankfully) and then discovering kiwi and almond allergies. Like many parents, I had to educate myself, learn to read labels, educate family and friends, learn how to use an epi-pen and ask a lot of questions.
Then, when I was just beginning to feel comfortable with the change in our lives, we needed to begin thinking about birthday parties and then the big one: school. I had thought that once we conquered school, we’d have a little comfort zone and generally we did with smaller issues coming up such as Valentine’s Day, continued education of teachers and school trips.
Last year, our daughter moved to junior high and that created a new round of anxiety, both on the part of our child and us as parents. We needed to begin the education process again, explore new options for cleanliness in the school, pin down specific eating areas for our child (since the kids can generally be where they choose) and tackle the issue of cooking in home economics class. We’re now at the end of that school year this week and everything worked really well so all is good, right?
Yes and no. While some issues are old hat and our allergic child has a very careful personality, there are so many other issues that are going to need to be dealt with. In the last month alone, we’ve had to discuss what to do with the epi-pen belt when you’re wearing a dress at the school dance (and no, leaving it on a table with your friend’s jacket is not okay) to an end of the year birthday party tomorrow night which is a co-ed extravaganza of kick the can, water fights and capture the flag. Unlike little kid birthday parties, where the parent controls the activities and food, these 12 and 13 year olds are getting to the age where they are doing more policing of themselves.
Therefore, the bedtime discussion last night was about if you’re not feeling well, telling a friend and bringing them with you to find an adult is necessary. This includes not going to the bathroom alone if she’s not well. Otherwise, what happens if she passes out before reaching an adult or can’t speak? Not exactly the conversation I want to have but an absolute must. So she’s picked 3 friends she’s comfortable with who she will have accompany her in the event of a concern.
Thankfully, she’s not at the age yet (at least I hope I’m not thinking this naively) where any party would have drugs or alcohol but we’ve already had those conversations too. Whether drinking something that has a potential allergen in it, sharing a glass or cigarette/drug that someone else has inadvertently left an allergen on or even being inebriated and having less care and inhibitions about personal safety have all been part of discussions since she was about 10. In the next few years, we can hope that the earlier education will have a positive effect but we now must trust her to take care of herself in so many more situations that are not as controlled as we would like.
Anaphylaxis Canada has put out a website specifically for teens called Why Risk It? There are various sections to the site but they do cover the issues of partying, carrying your epinephrine, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, dating, kissing and more. The site also features different situations that allergic teens have found themselves in and how they dealt with them. At the very least, this website may allow your allergic child to explore aspects of an allergic teen’s life that they may not want to share with you. I hope for most families, it gives a tool to begin those very important conversations.