Seek out therapists and caregivers who have a good understanding
of allergies. Alert the staff about your child's food
allergies or intolerances and create a plan that protects them from
Involve your child with their food. Cooking,
grocery shopping and talking about food with your child helps them
learn what's safe and what isn't, in addition to learning new
development skills. Involvement with food preparation helps kids
enjoy the foods they can eat.
Use visual images to teach about food allergies. Studies
have shown children who know how to visually identify allergenic
foods are less likely to have an allergic reaction. Educational
flashcards, such as Beyond a Peanut, teach kids how to cope with a
nut allergy by using colorful images of foods and activities. If
your child has multiple food allergies or intolerances, create your
own flashcards that explain your child's specific needs.
Invest in allergy identification, such as bracelets
available at idonme.com, zoobearsmedicalid.com
Consider "allergy alert" clothing. Many companies now
offer cute T-shirts and sweatshirts that spell out your child's
allergy needs. Check out Blue Bear
Aware, and Alert Clothing Company for a variety of
styles and designs.
Parents of kids with special developmental and
physical needs are all too familiar with the many challenges they
face as they navigate life each day. But what if your child with
special needs also has food allergies or intolerances?
Severe food allergies can be life-threatening, bringing an
added risk to a child who already copes with other physical or
developmental issues. Alison Bell, a Westchester mom of two, has
had to find her own ways to cope. Her outgoing 5-year-old son,
Kamren, has Down syndrome, as well as a severe peanut
"We call Kamren 'Curious George,'" Bell says. "He loves to
However, Bell worries about her son's limited ability to
speak up about his allergy. "He can't say to people: 'I'm allergic
to peanuts.' He doesn't have those words yet," she says.
Looking for ways to help her son stay safe as he ventures
out into new situations, Bell scoured the Internet until she found
a comfortable medical I.D. bracelet her son can't remove. Food
allergy information is always on Kamren's wrist, so he doesn't have
to rely solely on verbal communication with those who may not know
him well, such as a new caregiver.
Alerting others to food allergies is only part of the
equation. Ruth Smith, founder and editor of the online resource
"Best Allergy Sites," www.bestallergysites.com, has a 7-year-old
son, J, with Asperger's syndrome, a condition marked by difficulty
with social interaction. J also has peanut, tree nut, egg and
"My son often felt left out during classroom birthday
celebrations and other activities that involve food," Smith says.
Teachers seated J at an isolated table to keep him away from unsafe
foods. While this practice is commonly used for allergic kids,
segregated seating caused Smith's son to feel even more distant
from his classmates. Ultimately, Smith pushed for a policy that
limits food in the classroom instead of isolating allergic kids. "J
has benefited both socially and academically," she
Food allergies may even clash with some therapies used for
kids with certain developmental challenges. "We use food to help
with sensory issues," says Kathy Ruffulo, vice president of
Children's Services for Aspire, a Chicago-area nonprofit devoted to
people with disabilities. "Plus, as a social tool, it's great to
sit with a snack and have kids use their language
Aspire has a peanut-free children's facility and asks
parents if any food allergies or intolerances are present when
enrolling kids in therapy groups.
Food intolerances, such as celiac disease, also pose
challenges to kids like 6-year-old Ben Prine. A spunky
kindergartner, Ben is on the autism spectrum and also has
developmental disabilities. He was placed on a wheat-free, soy-free
and casein-free diet by his doctor after it was discovered he
suffered both physical and behavioral symptoms from certain
"Changing Ben's diet was a big deal," says his mom, Barb
Prine, an Elmhurst mother of two. "He wasn't diagnosed until he was
5, so it was hard for him to give up so many foods. It was a total
lifestyle change." Barb and her husband, Doug, involve Ben in
cooking and grocery shopping as a way to help him accept and enjoy
his new eating regimen. They even found a gluten-free play dough
Life with food allergies and intolerances can be tough,
and adding other special needs to the mix complicates things even
further. However, with a parent's love and a little creativity,
kids can thrive. "Ben loves to help bake banana bread, cookies and
things that all kids enjoy," says Barb Prine. "We just find ways to
make them free of the things he can't have."
Jenny Kales is a La Grange Park freelance writer and mother of two. She also writes the award-winning food allergy blog, The Nut-Free Mom.
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