Saturday, September 6, 2008

What is Your Opinion?

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.


Elana in NJ said...

I feel for the mom who wrote the letter but it really comes down to life or death for me. Her child would have an autism issue with not being allowed pb in the classroom. Yes its inconvenient but what about some of the child's breakfast options at lunch? If MY peanut allergic child had a reaction it could be deadly. If her child can't have peanut butter its merely an inconvenience. I see the other side, but I have to advocate for my allergic child's needs just as she needs to advocate for her child's needs.

3 for Me!! said...

I feel for BOTH parents... I've worked with special needs (and specifically autistic) students in the public school and I have my own food allergy kids....

What about making one classroom "allergy-friendly" and have the peanut allergic student in that classroom and the autistic student in the other? It would require ONE to change out of their current classroom.... but it would be a one-time change soo early in the school year... and honestly it would be easier for the peanut allergy student to change classes. The sacrifice of changing classes would be worth it to prevent the peanut allergic child from being exposed to peanut!

Canada has solved this problem in their public schools by making them peanut-free.... (i'm not sure if it's all of Canada...but around at school!!)

ChupieandJ'smama said...

I agree with "3 for me". I would switch one child and make one of the classes peanut free. Both childrens needs should be met and this would be the only solution. They have to keep the peanut allergy child safe, but they really need to make sure the autism childs needs are met too. I understand about life and death in the peanut case (trust me, I do because of my mulitple allergy child) but it isn't fair to exclude the autism child either.
I hope the school can come to a good and fair solution to this problem.

Erin said...

Hi there, I've been lurking on your site recently, as we just found out that our youngest has multiple food allergies. I like getting a "heads-up" on what we can expect when he enters the school world.
I'm wondering if the mom who wrote the letter has tried one of the soy or seed alternatives to pb?? Target's sunbutter is a pretty close match in taste & texture. Just a thought...

Christine said...

Before I got to the comments, I was thinking, "Why not Sunbutter or a jelly sandwich and more protein at breakfast and diner?"

After reading all the comments, I'd have to say why not put the kids in two separate classrooms, IF they are truly separate enough to keep the allergic child safe and there is no danger of contaminating the safe zone of the allergic child. It is not entirely clear from the letter if this is the case.

But looking at the issue, it is weighing something that is a inconvenience for the parent,certainly, in terms of dealing with the feeding and nutrition issues for her autistic child against a life threatening issue.

I assume suggestion of having her child eat in another room is not to isolate him from the other child but to isolate the contaminant from the room. I would think idea of making the preschool area peanut free is to create a safe zone for this child. I would also think that bringing peanuts into either room if the kids go back and forth would create potential dangers for a severely allergic child.

Modern Allergy Mom said...

This is always going to be a tough call. We all want our kids to be safe and secure at school. No one wants to cause a child to feel isolated for any reason. Fortunatly my boys are in a provate pre school that is nut free. I have one more year before I have to navigate through the school system with peanut allergies. I do not really expect to have peanut butter banned from the school, but to educate my son and his classmates about allergy safety. I want to teach R to live in a world with peanuts.
I though the suggestion of using sunbutter or soy nut butter was a good idea. I have a friend who bought sunbutter to serve when her boys are around peanut allergic friends.

elisha said...

i'm really just agreeing with the other posters, but i thought i'd add my comment.

suggest trying sunbutter.

suggest they do the separate classrooms.

as everyone has said, it's a life or death situation for the peanut allergy child.

that doesn't make me unsympathetic to the mother of the autistic child, but you can't work around peanut allergy. there are no alternatives to not being anaphylactic to peanut exposure.

Red Dog said...

I've gotta say, I give this mom props for even bothering to care what the other kid's issue is and trying to learn more about it. Sure, she has an obvious bent toward her own child's welfare, but who wouldn't? And although I'm a peanut-allergy mom, I'm also very familiar with autism from two kids I used to babysit, and I feel I should clarify that what she is referring to is considerably more than an "inconvenience." Agreed - it's not the same as a life-threatening food allergy, but an autistic kid who is forced to depart from routine can be absolutely unmanageable, and that is a nightmare for those parents and teachers in its own way. On the whole, I think any solution that attempts to accommodate both parties is the best one. At the end of the day though, "life" prevails if there has to be a choice made.

Allergy Life In Loudoun said...

If it can be allowed, Sunflower butter and it's done. I also say, if the non allergic child doesn't "like it" then the Mom should mix peanut butter and Sunbutter AT HOME for a few days and then get to Sunbutter only before bringing it back into the classroom (again if Sunbutter is OK here). No one has to move classes either. This Mom really thought out what she was going to say and how it could be handled though, kudos.