The following email came through one of my mommy groups. Not knowing the peanut allergic moms side, should peanut butter be banned in this classroom? I'm interested in your responses...
I've got a dilemma and I'm not sure how to handle the situation. It concerns my son and his new classmate who has a peanut allergy.I preface this by saying I'm a former EMT, so I'm very familiar with anaphylactic shock, severe allergic reactions, Epi pens, and the like. I'm not really looking for a Food Allergy 101 type of discourse, but more along the lines of how a child with food allergies assimilates into the non-allergic world.
Here are the facts:1. My son J (3.5 yo) is autistic and enrolled in a public elementary school that features a special needs preschool program. He was in the school last year, another Fairfax County school this summer for summer session, and back at his original school for the new school year.
2. Due to the nature of his condition, J is very tactile defensive and sensory, esp. with food. Think picky toddler eater, times 10. He has a special diet with biomedical supplements, so I'm not entirely unfamiliar with what it's like to *not* be able to eat everyday, common things that every other child on the planet enjoys. But he is down to 2 options for lunches (PB&J, or grilled cheese sandwiches.. .which he's not supposed to have because he's on a casein-free diet, but we do offer him occasionally so he doesn't completely max out on the other option. and yes, we've tried and he hates the non-dairy cheese alternatives, so we supplement with probiotics and digestive enzymes to help with any distress, but it does make him rather "stimmy"). He is down to 2 options for dinner as well, both of which require a stove to prepare - so we can't just flip the menu to serve lunch at dinnertime.
3. J IEP includes socialized eating during snacks and lunch, hoping that seeing other children eating and trying different things might inspire him to imitate. It hasn't happened yet, but the teachers are aware of his feeding issues. We supplement with private OT in the home for feeding as well.
4. A classmate of J's has a peanut allergy. On his first day of school, after we sent PB&J into school for lunch, the teacher asked me to no longer bring PB into the classroom due to the classmate's allergy.
5. I explained J's limitations with diet, his IEP needs and goals in respect to feeding/eating, and asked if there was a workaround since there's really nothing else we can feed J. She thought perhaps J could eat in another room or at a table by himself. I did not say anything because she needed to confer with the parents of the affected child and the health coordinator, but I was not really thrilled with isolating J because it seemed punitive (why isolate him vice the other child) and he would lack the socialization needed to expand his feeding skills and repertoire.
6. Today the teacher announced that they have rendered the classroom a "peanut free" room after speaking with the parent about the severity of the allergy. She is drafting a letter to send home to all parents, and PB is no longer allowable in the preschool while this child is in attendance.
7. J's school is not a peanut-free school, nor is the Fairfax County school system. The school cafeteria features PB&J on the menu daily as a "default" option if students don't care for anything else on the lunch menu. There are a few hundred children that attend the school. Since the child is clearly highly allergic if they're now rendering the classroom peanut-free, wouldn't it stand to reason that the other hundreds of children who use the bannisters, library, gym equipment, playground equipment, and other commonly-shared objects/areas could potentially harm this allergic child?
I keep thinking that there has to be a workaround. That this child could eat in the other preschool classroom... perhaps one room can be peanut-free and in the other it's allowable. I know it's not a perfect comparison because it's not a life-threatening situation, but when J would wig out from sensory overload when we went into a grocery store or heard another child crying which would trigger a complete empathetic meltdown in him, my first gut instinct was to protect my son because he's different and sensory-sensitive. But logically I knew I couldn't ask people in public to make their children stop crying (don't we all wish this was possible!?) or take their kids out of the store or ask the store to turn the music down or the flickering flourescents off. J had to learn to cope in a world with such uncomfortable, intolerable distractions. We have to live in "their" world; they can't live in "ours" - in other words. So when I try to think of things in a fair and balanced nature, I wonder how kids with severe allergies have to face situations that threaten their health on a daily basis, and what are potential strategies to accommodate both types of kids without penalizing one or the other. How does the peanut-allergic child live in a peanut-eating world? How do moms with children with severe food allergies handle this in the school, in public areas, etc.? How do moms who are current or former educational providers (public or private) handle both types of kids? I feel like I need to advocate for the rights of my own child, as much as another mom would advocate for the rights of hers. Both types of kids are entitled to the right of a public education. But rather than be combative, I'd like to find a cooperative solution (other than harm my own son's health with daily cheese intake, or sacrificing lunch in the schools everyday). Any insight, advice, or suggestions are highly appreciated.