Part 1: Life at School
There is now a lot of information about allergies and their symptoms that allergy sufferers and their families can obtain from websites, leaflets, and by talking to their doctors. Usually only the families of children with allergies know what daily life with allergies is like. In our five-part series, we interview a father in Berlin with a severely allergic child, provide insights, promote understanding, give encouragement, and reveal ways to cope in everyday life.
We spoke to Christian, 41, about the challenges presented by his son Luis’ severe peanut allergy and how the family is dealing with it. The allergy was identified when he was four years old. Luis is now nine and attends school.
Daily life at school with a peanut allergy
All of Luis’ teachers at school are aware of his severe allergy, whether they teach him or not. “The school is really involved”, says Christian. “I am always invited to the teachers’ conference before the beginning of the school year, during which I give a kind of safety talk. I am part of the agenda. Someone from the fire department speaks about fire drills before me, and then I give my allergy speech.”
He instructs every teacher on how to give the emergency injection, what the warning signs are, what Luis can eat and what he needs to avoid. “It has to be spelled out to everyone: Here is a child with a severe allergy. If he is suddenly found sitting in a corner coughing, a teacher has to react immediately!” says Christian emphatically. “But it also means that everyone has to know Luis’ face.” This is why there is a large photo of Luis hanging in the teachers’ room. But at lot of the teachers express reluctance to react in the event of an emergency. “When we show them Luis’ medication, they are concerned about the legal implications of using it.”
At the parents’ meeting, the parents of Luis’ classmates also receive information. Christian asks them not to let their children bring food containing peanuts to school and explains which sweets contain peanuts or traces of peanuts. “Most of them know that there are M&Ms with peanuts. But what most of them don’t know is that all the other M&Ms have traces of peanuts because they are produced in the same facilities”, he says. Luis even reacts to airborne peanut particles – for example, when someone tears open a bag of peanut puffs.
The other parents generally comply with Christian’s request. In case one of the children is celebrating a birthday and has brought sweets for everyone that Luis cannot eat, his parents have left a supply of peanut-free treats in the classroom cupboard.
Detailed arrangements were made with the school caterers as to which foods are approved for Luis. “Nowadays so many children in Berlin have special dietary needs that are being addressed – vegetarian, Muslim or lactose-intolerant – so the cooks are already good at keeping foods separate and most of them do not use peanuts in their cooking”, says Christian happily.
Several kids in Luis’ after school centre are allergic to nuts, and the management has decided on its own initiative to exclude all foods containing nuts or peanuts.
We thank Christian for this interview. He spoke with Matthias Colli and Johanna Rupp from ECARF.
– Grocery shopping and preparing food with a peanut allergy