Monday, September 14, 2009

Fighting Battles Together

Last week, at our Davis County chapter meeting, we talked with a member who’s having trouble getting any cooperation from her food-allergic child’s elementary school teacher and principal. She came to our meeting because she wanted to talk with other parents who’ve “been there” and who understand what she’s going through.

Over the last ten years, I’ve seen so much progress in the world of food allergies. Many more people know about food allergies now than a decade ago. More restaurants understand. More neighbors “get it.” More news reports deal with it. More cookbooks address it. And more schools understand and accommodate it. But not all. Not yet.

This mom’s school insists her daughter is the first they’ve ever had with a severe food allergy. Unfortunately, she won’t be the last. They can try to put their collective heads in the sand, but that’s not going to stop the fact that the incidence of peanut allergies in children has doubled in the last five years and shows every sign of continuing that disheartening pace. While it’s no consolation right now for the mom who has to go through all the battles at this school first, she’s blazing the way and making the trail safer for all the kids who will be following her daughter into that school system.

In the meantime, those of us who’ve already gone through some of those battles can encourage each other on, applaud our successes, and learn from our failures. We can support moms like this one by sharing what we’ve tried, what we’ve learned, and what we’ve gained.

Some of the things we’ve learned:

1. When people insist food allergies aren’t that big of a deal, or that we’re making up the seriousness of food allergies, it’s usually because they’re confusing food allergies with pollen allergies (hay fever) or with lactose intolerance (a completely different illness). It’s an understandable confusion. For hay fever or lactose intolerance, you can often take a pill and be fine. Explaining how those ailments are completely different diseases from food allergies is the first step to getting those people to understand.

2. Often, just saying, “You’re making me feel sad and helpless” directly to the person who’s making our life difficult snaps them into realization, and they will sometimes make a new effort to help, where before they were unthinkingly callous. Try it. Being honest about our own fears can bring out the best “hero syndrome” in others, even those we could have sworn would be enemies forever.

3. There are legal recourses if all else fails. Our kids can be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and by 504 plans.

4. Honey catches more flies than lemon. No matter how frustrated we are, we need to try to remain positive and helpful. Throwing a temper tantrum will never win anyone over to our side. (Now if I could just convince my son of that!)

5. We’re not alone. There are 12 million people in the U.S. alone with severe food allergies. One out of twenty kids has a severe food allergies (that’s about one per classroom). Once we start talking about our food allergies, we discover more people than we ever dreamed are in the same boat – we find neighbors, teammates, classmates, church members, business associates, and even celebrities who are going through the same trials as we are, and we can draw strength and inspiration from each other.

For everyone who’s out there feeling like they’re fighting this battle on their own, know that there are plenty of kindred spirits who are going through the same things. Over time, we’re finding each other and creating support groups that help, whether online, or in meetings, or standing in the grocery check-out line. Reach out for help, or reach out to help. More and more, there’s strength in our numbers.

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