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By: Melissa Enos | AFAA Editorial Contributor
"When you feel like keeping your child safe and well-nourished at home is a full time job already, how can you possibly even think of leaving the city, the state, or even the country to take a family vacation?" 
It's vacation season!

The kids will be out of school for the summer before we know it. If a road or airplane trip is in your plans, you know that it is never too early to start preparing.  

When you feel like keeping your child safe and well-nourished at home is a full time job already, how can you possibly even think of leaving the city, the state, or even the country to take a family vacation? As a parent of a child allergic to multiple foods, I have been there and done that a few times already and have lived to tell the tale. Even better, my child has lived to tell the tale, and my family has some wonderful memories to share. This is what family vacations and family time is all about, after all, so the extra hassle is worth it. In the end, you will be glad that you did it. Some extra planning is always necessary, and once you do that, you will end up with a much happier and less stressful vacation. Here are a few steps to consider as a good starting point for that awesome trip:

Check with Your Airline Carrier

Every airline has their own policies for managing children and adults who have food allergies. The problem can be that they often pass out bags of peanuts or trail mix during the flight and this can obviously cause a danger to people who have allergies to these foods. Some airlines are more helpful than others, so it's good to check around and see the experiences that different people have had on different airlines. This could have a major effect on who you book besides just the cost of seats on the plane. JetBlue, for example, has a policy of not serving peanuts or tree nuts at all, however this does not mean that passengers boarding the plane will not have peanuts or tree nuts on them. United has begun a new policy of asking passengers who sit near the food allergic person to not eat foods with nuts in them. However, they have no way of actually enforcing this if the person chooses not to comply. Again, always read reviews, check experiences online, and call the airlines for specific policies before booking your flight. Once you have done that, make sure to talk with the staff on board the plane to make sure they are aware of your child's needs and to see how you can work with them and make sure that everybody has a safe and enjoyable flight. In these cases it works best to "kill them with kindness" instead of making demands. This is less stressful for the flight crew, less stressful for you, and also a good way to get your vacation started on a good note.

Plan Your Pit-Stops

So a road trip is more your style? It is for us! A well-planned road trip doesn't mean simply knowing what highways are clear at what time. Having kids in the car demands always having a toilet stop in mind anyway, so it helps to pair your planning with snack stops in places that have safe foods to eat. Call ahead, research websites, and know what's safe to order. That way, you're not left scrambling or wondering what your child can eat while driving an unfamiliar highway with the "I'm hungry!" and "I need to go potty!" chorus echoing from the back seat. If you reach a planned stop and the chorus has not yet begun, stop anyway. Trust me, they will end up needing to go, and they will want a snack. Your blood pressure will thank you in the end.

Book Your Hotel Wisely

So you've figured out how to get to your destination! Great! Now, what about your hotel? Many hotels have free continental breakfasts, and this is a great thing for many of us. Unfortunately, this is not such a great thing for children allergic to the majority of what most hotels offer. One thing my family has learned is to simply book a hotel that has a kitchen already included in the room. No, this doesn't mean an expensive suite. In fact, in my family we are firmly of the belief that the hotel is just where you crash, and the money should be spent on all the fun that goes on outside the hotel. At least a couple hotel chains offer rooms with kitchenettes at reasonable rates, Days Inn being the one that we tend to frequent. Besides offering a more safe and convenient way of feeding your child hot and nutritious food, a kitchen can actually save you money by having breakfast "at home" instead of going out. The practical mother in me also loves kitchenettes because they save me time. This means I don't have to wake up early to make sure everyone is ready on time to leave early to get to the restaurant (a great way to start the day frazzled when no one has eaten yet). We can simply have breakfast while other members of the family are showering, doing their hair, or getting dressed. It's a great way to sleep in and start the day with a more normal and familiar routine, and as hard as my family plays, this is a very good thing!

Communicate With Your Destination

Most popular vacation spots, especially amusement parks, have very strict policies as to what foods you can and cannot bring into the park. Most times, simply letting the attendant know at the gate is all you need to do. However, other parks, like Sea World, are much stricter. Sea world boasts their food allergy friendly menus and their ability to cater to persons with food allergies. Therefore, they are likely to suggest you talk to the person serving your food for food allergy friendly options. In our case, having a child with so many food allergies as well as food aversions, a complete meal that he could eat safely is simply not realistic to expect any park to prepare. I emailed the park weeks ahead of time to let them know of my situation, and after a few back-and-forth emails (where the staff was sure they'd be able to offer suggestions that could work), they finally wrote a letter for me to present at the gate allowing me to bring in my own food for my son. Although this is the most work I've ever had to do in communicating with an amusement park, I was very impressed with the way that Sea World handled my situation. They are truly making an effort to cater to persons with food allergies, and frankly if they had been able to offer something that would work, I would've been thrilled! It would've meant that I wouldn't have to carry food for my son, and that would've meant one less bag on my shoulder. The main thing to remember when working with any vacation attraction is to communicate with them in writing ahead of time to see what their specific policies are and how they can work with you. It is always best to take care of this before you reach the location in order to avoid any unnecessary stress (yes, lessening stress is very much a theme in everything I do!). The last thing anyone wants is to be stuck at a gate waiting to explain your situation to a manager when all you and the kids want to do is go play.

Make a List - And Check it Multiple Times!

There are many things that tend to get forgotten when we go on vacation - Epi pens should not be one of them! This, I'm ashamed to admit, is one mistake that I have made, and it was an expensive one. Sure, I checked my list before we left the house. I had the Epis with me when we got in the car. But after switching to a rental car at a family member's house before heading out on our road trip, the purse with the Epis was left in our family car. We ended up calling our pediatrician to have her call in a prescription for us to pick up at our destination. That was $300 we didn't want to spend right off the bat, but a lesson definitely learned. Make sure you know where your emergency materials are at all times, and check for them before you leave any car, restaurant, museum, park, etc.

Identify your Child

Take extra steps to make sure your child is safe in the event that he or she gets separated from you. If your child is too young to provide park staff with your contact information - and just as important, allergy information - make sure they are wearing that information on med alert IDs of any type that is convenient for them to wear. It's one thing for a well-meaning staff member to have your cell phone number to call with your child's location, but the same well-meaning staff member might also be tempted to try soothing your frightened child with a chocolate chip cookie while they wait. It's best to avoid this situation if at all possible.

Take a Deep Breath, and Know the Hassle is worth it.

Yes, this can be a lot of work. If, like in my case, your child's list of allergies includes most of the "top 8," the work can be even more daunting. All I can say in response is that it's worth it. If the thought of managing allergies is the only thing keeping you from making the decision to book that trip, I say go for it. There is enough that our children have to say "no" to when food and socializing is involved, the last thing I want is to tell my son that vacations and trips are on the "no" list as well. I can say from first-hand experience that all the trouble was worth it 5 minutes after walking into Disneyland when I got to see my little boy run into Pluto's arms. That first trip was scary to plan, but the more we do it, the more it becomes part of our normal planning, and the more grateful I am that I decided not to listen to my "crazy over-protective mom" inner voice.
 
 
By: Lilliana DeSantiago Cardenas | AFAA School Epinephrine Advocate & Editorial Contributor
With the passage of SB 1421 allowing school districts to provide stock general use epinephrine for emergencies it is important that we understand what this means.
Exciting times are here; our children are off to a new school year.  Unfortunately these are also times of anxiety and fear for many families. With the passage of SB1421 allowing school districts to provide stock general use epinephrine for emergencies it is important that we understand what this means.  Also what we can do while schools in AZ become more competent on Food Allergies, Anaphylaxis and how to help our children either with their own epinephrine or with stock.

  1. Most schools will not have stock epinephrine available this year.  By law they are only required to stock if funds have been allocated via the annual budget.  Schools may opt to purchase these through their own funds.  Check with your schools.
  2. Stock epinephrine should never take the place of your child’s prescribed epinephrine.  Bring your child’s prescribed medication to school, make sure it is not expired, label it clearly and provide clear and detailed information to all classroom teachers, aides, and any other adults that will work with your child during the school day on how and when to use it. 
  3. Be prepared and communicate, 504 Plans are essential if your child has food allergies that lead to anaphylaxis. They not only provide information and guidance on how and when to help your child, but it is a legal and binding document that is developed in agreement with school administration, teachers, and parents.   504 Plans also provide you the leverage you need to ensure that necessary accommodations are made in regards to food, medication access, and class room environment.  Also if there are violations to the 504 Plan it is much easier to take legal action and hold people accountable.  Some schools may challenge your child’s ability to carry their epinephrine if there is not a 504 Plan and information outlining your child’s condition and medication requirements.  Make sure you check in with your school administrator and nurse about this.
  4. Share training resources on how to administer epinephrine to all adults who work with your child: http://www.arizonafoodallergy.org/administering-epinephrine.html The thought of injecting epinephrine is scary for most people.  Ease concerns through education and practice with demos.
  5. Be a team! Work with the school as much as possible and understand that they are afraid too. Schools are set up to be educational institutions not healthcare providers so this is totally out of their comfort zone.  They don’t want to put your child in danger.  The more you work with them in a patient and respectful manner, the more responsive they will be.  They need to be educated on the issue, treatment, risks, and emergency management.  The more they understand that the danger is in the lack of responding vs giving someone epinephrine the more they will become comfortable and willing to help.
My experience working with schools for over 8 years on asthma, food allergies, and diabetes is that they want to help, but they don’t really know how.  They are scared and don’t want to get into legal troubles. They don’t want to hurt your child and they sure don’t want a tragedy on their hands.  Education and awareness is key and the way to achieve this is through collaborative partnership between parents, students and school.   

 
 
By: Melissa Enos | AFAA Education Specialist & Editorial Contributor
The more you make this a two-way street, the more complete your child's circle of support will be.
It's back to school time again! If you have a school age child, you are familiar with the shopping and preparing that we get caught up in every single year. If you have a child with food allergies, this entire ritual is also required – and then some. On top of everything you already have to do, you must also take into account the steps needed to make sure your child is safe once school starts. What are these steps, and how can you keep your stress level low while you prep for sending your child back to school? It is not always easy, and the fact that your child's safety is at stake makes this a very serious job. That still does not mean that it has to be a negative experience. With some planning and communication, you can enjoy an open relationship with your child's teacher while keeping your child safe at school.

 

Establish or Update Your Child's 504 Plan

A child's 504 plan should be reviewed every year. The beginning of the school year is a good time to get this done. If your child's 504 plan review is due at a different time, such as mid-year, you can still ask for a meeting to discuss changes or updates to your child's status. This is especially important if there have been changes since the last review.

If your child does not have a 504 plan in place, this is the time to get one. Whether or not children with food allergies can qualify for a 504 plan has been debated in many school districts, but their eligibility has been specifically established in the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (http://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm). You may also wonder whether a 504 plan is necessary if your child's school or teacher has offered informal supports. Although it is great that the school is aware of and willing to work with your child, the truth is that establishing an official 504 document provides your child with the legal protection that verbal agreements cannot provide. Another great resource for getting the process started can be found here: http://www.arizonafoodallergy.org/get-a-504-plan.html. Finally, make sure to have all your documentation together when beginning or reviewing the 504. This means being prepared to provide medical documents and written statements of your child's specific needs. Having all this on hand will help avoid unnecessary generalities in your child's plan and make it as individually specific as possible.

 

Reach Out to School Staff

            A written plan is a great resource, but being active and available as a parent can help establish you as a resource to the school. Get to know your child's teacher and be in frequent contact with him/her via email regarding all school activities, not just those relating to food allergies. Volunteer if possible so that you can see the classroom routines and the teacher's styles. Seeing this first hand can help you work with the teacher to incorporate your child's supports as seamlessly as possible. The more you make this a two-way street, the more complete your child's circle of support will be. An active parent is a great academic and social support for any child, and for a food allergic child, an active parent will also provide that additional sense of safety they need to know they can keep their focus on learning.

 

Prepare Your Child

            How much your child understands and how much your child can participate in his/her own plan is a very individual question. This depends, of course, on your child's age and maturity level. The first thing to remember is to not assume that your child is ready just because he or she is a specific age. One 6 year old might be perfectly ready to carry their own epi and communicate their needs, while another 6 year old is not able to do this yet. As your child's parent, you are in the best position to gauge how much responsibility your child is ready to take.

            Even if your child is not yet able to take responsibility for his or her allergy management, it is still a good idea to talk with your child and inform him or her about being aware to foods and potential dangers. Teach your child to ask questions about whether something is allergy safe, and especially teach your child to only eat foods that are on his or her food plan (packed lunch, snacks provided by mom, etc). For younger kids, AFAA has some great coloring pages that can help to bring up the subject and open the lines of communication: http://www.arizonafoodallergy.org/coloring-pages.html. Ultimately, it is up to the staff at school to keep your child safe, but that also means that school is a great place for the child to begin learning how to manage their allergies independently.

 

            Overall, the fears and anxieties you have when it comes to keeping your child safe at school are well-founded, but that does not mean they have to interfere with the quality of your child's educational experience. It also does not mean that they have to interfere with your ability to enjoy your child's educational experience. After all, soon enough you will have homework, math facts, spelling tests, and science projects to manage! With some planning and preparation, you can reserve your stress for that diorama that your child waits until the last minute to begin. You can also rest easy knowing that you are not alone on this road. The AFAA website has many options for reaching out to other parents, professional organizations, and policy guidelines to help meet whatever needs you may have.

 
 
By: Gladys Marietti | AFAA Editorial Contributor & Education Specialist
Believe it or not, I'm allergic to chocolate! Cupid has not delivered a red heart-shaped box of Valentine's chocolates to my house for some years now.
Believe it or not, I’m allergic to chocolate! Cupid has not delivered a red heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates to my house for some years now. For those of us with food allergies, holidays need to be celebrated a little differently. Whether you’re a child or an adult, who doesn’t love to get a treat for St. Valentine’s Day? The challenge for families, friends and sweethearts is what to get for those who have limited food choices. I like to switch the focus to non-food items. In anticipation of this holiday, I’ve been compiling a list of creative ideas for gifts to give and thoughtful things to do that don’t involve food. I’m happy to share these low-cost and no-cost ideas with you!  

These are fun ideas for kids and school classes “36 No-Candy Valentines”:  http://pluckymomo.blogspot.com/2014/01/32-no-candy-valentines.html
 
Did you know there are some festive ideas on our own AFAA page? Find them here: http://arizonafoodallergy.org/birthdays--holidays.html  

A cute heart bookmark made with a stamp pad and your fingerprints- could easily be turned into a card! http://www.crafts-for-all-seasons.com/thumbprint-heart-bookmark.html  

Who is old enough to remember the popular “fortune tellers” made of paper and controlled by your hands? Here’s one design so you can re-introduce them to your own children: http://www.designmom.com/2012/02/diy-valentine-fortune-tellers/  

Free printable mazes and word scrambles are a fun activity for any family member: http://www.printactivities.com/Seasonal_Activities/Valentine_Activities.html  

Mad Libs have been around since 1950’s. They are amusing word games where you fill in sentences with silly words: http://www.sisterssuitcaseblog.com/2013/01/valentines-day-mad-libs.html  

Man approved Valentine’s? Not pink and frilly ones? Yes, they do exist! http://www.thedatingdivas.com/holidays/valentines-day/man-approved-valentines/  

Very trendy “Open When” letters – easy to print and give from the heart: http://www.thedatingdivas.com/holidays/valentines-day/open-when-letters/  

“Love” Coupon Books are always appreciated. Here are three to print, cut and staple together:

http://unfortunatelyoh.blogspot.com/2012/02/printable-valentines-coupons.html

http://www.mommybydaycrafterbynight.com/2012/01/free-printable-valentine-coupon-book.html

http://www.iheartnaptime.net/printable-love-coupon-book/  

Who wouldn’t feel loved with one of my personal favorites – a gift of sentimental notes! Type up a bunch of your favorite moments, memories, trips, character traits or events you have shared over the years. Print them out, cut them into paper strips and fold them up. Place them in a glass jar or plastic container and add a heart shaped tag that says “I Love My Memories of You” or use one of these: http://junelily.com/free-printable-valentines-cards/


 
 
By: Samantha St. Vincent, AFAA Event & Education Specialist
Have you ever had the experience where you're looking for something, but can't find it? That happened with his epi-pens. He didn't actually need them, I was doing my paranoid check. But, what if my son needed his medication and I couldn't find it?
Purses are now a black hole for all the things we think we might need. I have everything but the kitchen sink in my bag, and sometimes I throw that in just in case.

When I had to start carrying my son’s Epi-pens I became paranoid and would constantly check, double-check, and triple-check that I had his medications.

Have you ever had the experience where you’re looking for something, but can’t find it? That happened with his epi-pens. He didn’t actually need them, I was just doing my paranoid check. But, what if my son needed his medication, and I couldn’t find it?

Solution? A big, bright-red first-aid bag.

This bag wouldn’t get lost anywhere. It’s easy for anyone to see if I need his medications. I can easily switch bags without worrying about forgetting something.

Here’s a list of everything that is in the “allergy-bag” and why.

I have big pins that say “Epi-pen Inside”. I have one on the diaper-bag and one on his “allergy-bag”. This pin allows others to quickly identify which bag is mine if needed. If I am ever unresponsive, emergency-personnel will check my bag for identification. They will see the pin and quickly locate the allergy-bag, giving them the information needed to protect tadpole since he can’t advocate for himself yet.

The first thing I put in the bag was his epi-pens. No explanation needed.

How will they know the bag is for him? A current picture and information card. Update the picture periodically.

Your information card may have different information. Ours has tadpole’s full name, DOB, home address, emergency contact name and phone numbers (me, hubby and my mom), the name and number of his pediatrician and allergist, list of allergies and medical conditions, and a list of current medications and dosage information. The back of the card has some of his favorite things (ex. toys, characters, food etc.) I’m planning for the worst; I can’t respond and I need to trust emergency-personnel to care for my child until a relative or I can.

Tadpole has asthma so I carry his inhaler. Think of any other medical conditions that your child has and any items needed.

I carry the big bottle of liquid-Benadryl. Use a piece of masking-tape to write the dosage for your child on the outside of the bottle to avoid having to figure it out in a panicked situation. Update this information periodically.

I also carry Benadryl cream and Hydrocortisone. If tadpole breaks out in hives the Benadryl cream will help. The hydrocortisone quickly erases his eczema if needed.

Buy or make a mini-first aid kit. I have band-aids, Neosporin, and gauze pads.

The last item in the allergy bag is hand sanitizer so I can clean my hands before undertaking any mommy-operations.

Is it a big bag? Yes. But, let’s be honest, those of us who have children with food allergies will be spending the rest of our lives hauling around emergency medications, safe snacks and more.