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SARAH: Preparing for school and trips out
I'm a mum to three children, my eldest daughter has asthma, excema, hayfever, oral allergy syndrome and is anaphylactic to milk and egg. Her sister is allergic to milk and egg and my youngest does not have any allergies (touch wood!).
My first daughter was born in 2001 and diagnosed at six months old - back then there weren't many people who knew anything about allergy and to consider that eating a tiny bit of milk or egg could have catastrophic consequences was a pretty alien concept to the majority of people, including us to be fair.
That was a very difficult time, but once we had come to terms with what this all meant we felt that we had to be pro-active and take control, not allow the allergies to rule ours or her life. That's easier said than done but I think on the whole we have managed to do that and our children have done pretty much everything they have wanted - although that has often meant us doing a lot of running around and organising beforehand, to make sure they are safe!
When she first started nursery school I was really scared about how safe she would be in someone else's care. We were very lucky that they had a fantastic approach, ensuring that she was never excluded from any activities and they worked really hard with us to make sure that everything they did was safe. The children loved going there, but most importantly they were safe and happy and we were relaxed knowing they were in good hands which really set the tone for how we wanted them to feel at school.
We've obviously faced more complications as they've got older but we've always tried to work closely with the schools, supplying a little goody bag that can be dipped into when the other children bring in birthday cakes or chocolates, offering to go on school trips, finding suitable recipes for cooking lessons - really anything we can do that will enable the children to be included in normal school life.
When our daughter was offered the chance to go to France with the school for a long weekend we wanted her to go with all her friends, but at the same time we were concerned about her safety. We had lots of conversations with the school and residential centre beforehand to ensure that all arrangements were in place but then, about a month before she was due to go, she had an anaphylactic reaction. We then felt even more worried about her going - I suppose we had lost our nerve - so in the end we took a weekend trip to France as well, staying about half an hour away from where she was. Happily, she was absolutely fine, but knowing that we were nearby gave us (and her) so much more peace of mind.
We've tried to foster good relationships with the key staff at school, but there have been times when things have gone wrong, mistakes have been made and she has had a reaction, some of them minor but some have been more serious, anaphylactic reactions. They have, of course, been very difficult to deal with and relationships have at times been strained but we've tried to work co-operatively to address the reasons so that it doesn't happen again.
Now she has moved to secondary school and really takes the majority of the day to day responsibility for herself, which has taken a bit of getting used to but I'm very proud of how sensible and capable she and her sister both are at dealing with the everyday challenges that they face and the very positive attitude they have to managing their allergies.
Letting your children go out for a day without you is very hard, particularly when they are small and initially I didn't want my children to go anywhere unless I was with them to make sure they didn't eat anything they shouldn't.
Really though, going out without you is something that should be a normal part of their growing up experience and, as hard as it is, there will come a time when it will happen whether it be with family, friends, school or another group, so it is important that you do as much as you can to minimise the risk to them:
- Make sure that whoever is taking them is aware of their condition and understands how serious it is. It's always a good idea to talk through the trip with them in advance if possible, that way you can identify any potential risks (not just mealtimes - try to find out what activities they might be participating in or near) and work out the best way to manage them. It also gives you an opportunity to talk about your child specifically and how they might react to different situations - often people understand the physical side of an allergic reaction but may not consider the emotional side and how a child may feel worried or anxious about being out of their usual comfort zone.
- Check that all medication is up to date, is clearly labelled and is taken on the trip together with a care plan and emergency contact details.
- With regard to food, again planning in advance is really helpful. You may need to provide food for your child or check that appropriate arrangements have been made for them. I have to say that even when I know arrangements have been made I will often ask for the children to be allowed to take extras - there have been many times when arrangements have fallen through or not been quite what they were supposed to have been so it is always helpful to have a backup just in case.
- Reassure your child - I always try to make sure they know who will be responsible for them so that they know if they are worried there is someone they can go to and I will also explain to them what arrangements have been made for food - you might not think they need to know all the information but I have found that my children take comfort, not necessarily from knowing the detail but from knowing that the detail has been discussed.