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Terri Mauro

Why Are People Still Not Taking Food Allergies Seriously?

By January 5, 2012

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PeanutsThe story of a 7-year-old Virginia girl who died at school, apparently of an allergic reaction to peanuts that the school had no epinephrine to treat, has upset a lot of parents and others who care about kids with food allergies this week. You can read more about that tragedy, and the gaping holes in the safety net that let it happen, in stories on CNN, About.com Food Allergies, About.com Pediatrics, and Allergy Moms. If you want to really feel scared, though, about the public level of concern for kids with life-threatening allergies, look no further than the comments on that CNN post, which should have a warning label of their own.

I'm not sure what it is about food allergies that causes people to just lose their humanity, but I've seen it among anonymous commenters and decent people of my acquaintance alike. I suspect it's related to our culture's tendency to bundle food with emotion, making the rejection of an edible an act of aggression. But you'd hope, with more information on food allergies available than ever -- and more kids than ever affected by them -- people would be starting to get it, and get over it, and work together to find a way to make kids safe that doesn't involve shunning them, doubting them, or killing them.

Perhaps a proposed law to make epinephrine available in schools without a child-specific prescription will help prevent the kind of treatment delay that likely took little Ammaria Johnson's life. The tragedy of public opinion ... that's going to take more work. For ideas on what to tell schools and schoolmates about allergies, read my articles on Preparing the School for Your Child With a Peanut Allergy and Preparing the School for Your Child With a Food Allergy. About.com's guide to Food Allergies, Jeanette Bradley, also has some good safety tips for kids.

If your school has found a good way to deal with food allergies, tell us about it on the Readers Respond page. And if your child has been bullied because of allergies, share those stories too. Surely, eventually, people will start to realize the depth to which this Is Not Right.

[A note on comments: Please be aware that this website is specifically for the parents of children with special needs, and therefore comments doubting the legitimacy of those needs, or suggesting children with special needs should abandon their right to a free, appropriate, and accessible public education, or proposing that kids whose special needs inconvenience others would be better off dead, are profoundly unwelcome. You may still post that comment, and I will read it, but I will make every effort to delete it before anybody else has to see it. Be a human being, willya?]

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

January 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm
(1) specialchildren says:

Along the same lines, a comment thread on the GlutenFree Works Facebook page about people not respecting or believing in celiac disease and gluten intolerance. https://www.facebook.com/Glutenfreeworks/posts/10150564643661815

January 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm
(2) sylrayj says:

I think that your ‘A Note On Comments’ certainly does cover it. I think that this is why people aren’t taking food allergies seriously – suddenly, our kids and those among us who aren’t *perfect* ‘should just curl up and go away’ or something.

I’ve seen comments about how “people with Disability X are at least useful to society because of Trait Y,” and thus that’s what they should do with their existence. That sort of thinking presumes that a) that’s all we are, and b) everyone with Disability X has Trait Y, and c) nothing else gets in the way from using Trait Y to ‘benefit society’. And having a life-threatening allergy doesn’t make someone ‘useful.’

It’s not only people who happen to have disabilities who are targeted by this kind of thinking. How many ‘normal’ kids out there are discarded emotionally because “they’ll never amount to nothing?”

I pray that one day, we will be able to look upon each person with respect, kindness, and the understanding that as long as they are doing their best, they are perfect as they are, even if their best is just breathing (with or without assistance).

January 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm
(3) specialchildren says:

Funny thing is, if you look at the people who have amounted to the most, so many of them have had real struggles as children, with illness or learning problems or poverty or any of those things that are supposed to make you never amount to much. The kids who seem most set up for success often burn out early or never make the most of their alleged advantages. There are so many intangibles that go into making someone “useful,” and so many ways to be so. Yet folks are constantly making value judgments based on the most obvious and least meaningful criteria.

January 6, 2012 at 7:00 am
(4) Diana Holquist says:

Sadly, I think people can’t understand people who are different. If a child isn’t like their child, it’s not only incomprehensible, but threatening. People need to learn to think outside the box.

And why wasn’t that school ready?!?!?! So sad.

January 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm
(5) specialchildren says:

Diana, I’ve seen some reports that the parents were told not to send her EpiPen in to school, which would be particularly awful. Others make it sound like the school had a good allergy policy in place, and people in the comments are blaming the parents. The About.com Pediatrics post indicates that there was a mix-up or miscommunication. Seems to me there’s more to the story that hasn’t come out — if anybody sees a good report about it, leave a link here and I’ll add it to the post.

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