Keeping Your Celiac Child Safe at School

     First of all, you’ll need allies, and who better than your child’s teachers? This means all of his teachers, including his physical education instructor or his home room teacher, with whom some children only meet with periodically. I highly recommend meeting with each teacher individually. Writing a note or e-mail is usually insufficient to communicate the seriousness of the condition and the details of the diet, including crucial issues such as cross-contamination and hidden sources of gluten, such as beauty products, for instance.

     There are a few things his teachers should know about it in this meeting. First of all, it needs to be communicated that your child’s restricted diet is to preserve his health; tell them that if your child deviates from his diet in any way, he can become quite ill. However, make it clear that your child is still “normal” and has interests and ambitions just like other children and shouldn’t be set apart from the others in any way except for with respect to diet. Next, let the teachers know that if there will be a birthday party, snack time, or other event with food in the classroom, they should let you know ahead of time so you can prepare gluten-free items for your child to eat and share.

     Finally, keep communication as open as possible between your child’s teachers (and school administrators) and you by providing them with all of your contact information, such as your e-mail address, all phone numbers they can reach you at, including your cell, work, and home numbers. Give them the phone numbers for relatives who are knowledgeable in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet or your child’s nutritionist, in case your teachers need to ask a question about your child’s condition and aren’t able to get ahold of you.

     In addition to communicating individually with teachers, provide them with some written material on celiac disease. The Celiac Sprue Association offers printable letters for various school administrators, including the principal, school counselor, nurse, cafeteria staff, and teachers. Also, recommend some books on celiac disease or gluten-free websites in case they want to refer themselves to these resources for more information, and donate a couple of books on these subjects to the school library and for the nurse’s office.

     Finally, I can’t insist enough the importance of teaching your child about his own condition and his diet. How much your child can absorb depends on his age and maturity level. You’ll be surprised by how much a child is capable of understanding.

Tina Turbin

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