Moving on to College (Part 1)

Parents of allergic children may think that, as their children get older, life will become simpler. For the lucky ones whose children do grow out of all, or most of their allergies, this will be true. But for those whose children don't, the most nerve wracking time of all may come when they set off for university.The current issue of Food Allergy News (the newsletter of the American Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, FAAN - carries an article by Carol Risinger, a speaker at a recent FAAN conference, whose daughter is in her second year at university. Her suggestions will be useful for any student - or, indeed, adult - on a restricted diet.

The parents of children with severe food allergies have a most unpleasant dilemma. Although the natural desire of the parent is to protect the child from all possible harm, the main goal of all parents is to develop a confident and independent young person able to achieve his or her dreams.

Accordingly, the parent of a child with food allergies is constantly torn between fear and the need to restrict the child, and granting the child freedom to experience a broad range of conventional and social situations.

As the parent of a daughter with a severe tree nut allergy, I had to overcome my fear and let her to explore her academic, social and athletic interests. I wanted her to be a ‘normal' kid who just happened to have a food allergy.

In the process of 'letting my child go' I acquired insights and strategies which may be useful to other parents. These strategies should be gradually turned over to your child because, ultimately, the responsibility will be his or hers, not yours. So begin, as early as possible to plan for the day when your child will leave for college.

Planning Ahead

• Arm yourself and your child with knowledge. Work with a paediatric allergist you can trust. (Easier to find in the US than in the UK, sadly - Ed.) Network with the parents of other food allergic teens through support organisations such as the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

• Teach yourself and others how to identify a reaction. Talk about these examples and make sure that your child understands the symptoms.

• If your child is in danger of suffering an anaphylactic shock, stress the importance of always having epinephrine (adrenalin) available. No exceptions! Spot check to ensure that your teen is following this rule.

• Allow your child increasingly to take the lead in decision making situations. Remember it is his or her allergy and the more practice he or she has before leaving home, the more relaxed you will both feel.

• Make sure that your teen wears a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace with the details of his or her allergy.

Eating Out

• Be sure that your son or daughter knows how to order in a restaurant.

• College dining is all about eating food prepared by others so food allergic students need to carry ‘official allergy cards’ explaining their allergy and their requirements. These are really useful in persuading the restaurant or café to take their allergy seriously.

• Make sure that your teenager has several cards as they are inevitably going to lose them.

• If possible have the card available in several different languages both for trips abroad and to deal with restaurant staff who do not understand English too well.

• There are a number of organisations who can make up laminated cards according to need: and

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