June 15, 2011

Camp Allergy Education 101

You've searched all over the place to find the right camp for your child.  Some seem more allergy-prepared than others, which is to be expected.  Most of us aren't school teachers, allergy education trainers, or allergy mom bloggers desperately trying to get the word out (I said most of us); so, here are some resources for you to gracefully and with every good intention offer the camp you're interested in.  Go ahead and send them a link to this post!

Start here.
Irene wrote a wonderful post a few months back with links to some fantastic resources, including the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (my personal favorite).  Under 'education', they've got comprehensive resources for camps and schools, including a 'Back to School Toolkit' with links to printable posters, brochures, and checklists perfect for staff training, phrases to describe How a Child Might Describe a Reaction (Tristan and Logan often say something feels spicy, or that their tongues or lips tingle or hurt), and their five steps to Being a PAL, which can easily be incorporated into camp rules and procedures:
1. Don't make jokes about food allergies.
2. Don't share food with someone who has food allergies (or just not at all)
3. Wash your hands after eating.
4. Ask what your friends are allergic to, and help them avoid it.
5. If a food allergic friend becomes ill, get help immediately!

The You Tube Generation
Many of your child's camp counselors will probably be in their teens, with active Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube accounts (as I'm writing this, they're off to something new!).  For high impact for the tech savvy generation, email the camp a link to a 6 minute youtube video called Kids Living With Food Allergies produced by the Food Allergy Initiative, featuring some very articulate allergy kids speaking candidly about their food allergies (it's hard not to love this video and learn so much from these super cute allergy kids!).

If they'll be serving your child snack or other foods, provide them with cheat sheets for the common allergens.  Finding out if something contains dairy, for example, doesn't always mean searching for the ingredient "milk."  Buttermilk, whey, and casein (and many more) are all other forms of dairy.  As allergy moms, we know that hidden allergens are everywhere; but for others, this is new (and important) information.  If anything, it'll make them think twice about serving up your child snacks without discretion. 

Don't forget to give them some safe snack suggestions for your child, being as specific as possible; or, just send along a stash of snacks for your child labeled with her name).

Wear Your Allergens
If you haven't already, research and find an allergy necklace or bracelet that your child will wear--easier said than done.  Tristan has a dog tag listing all his allergies and meds.  I finally convinced him to wear it to school, but found that the chain actually irritates his skin after a long day of school or play, so he doesn't usually wear it anymore.  Check out STATkids or Allerbling (great for multiple allergies) for some fun allergy bracelets your child is sure to want to wear!  And Jeeto's patches for lunch bags and backpacks are WAY cool.

Everyone Loves a Good Book
Provide the camp with (or refer them to) a allergy-themed picture book that can be read to the children at the camp to open up a discussion about allergies, if possible.  Depending on age, there are lots of good ones to choose from.

With open communication, education, and information, it is possible for your child to thrive at camp this summer.  Get more info about keeping your allergy kids safe at camp, send them off with some peace of mind, and enjoy a little me time!

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