Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Succeed in Sending Your Food Allergic Kid to Camp [without really trying]

We've posted so much on here about bad experiences with people not "getting" food allergies we thought it's high time we posted a good one.  Fortunately, we have a success story to share today. 

What follows are simple steps you'll probably find on many food allergy advocacy sites.  And you should definitely check out that info at Food Allergy InitiativeFood Allergy and Anaphylaxis or Best Allergy Sites

But if you want to hear from someone who went through it, read on.  The hard part is finding people that cooperate.  Hopefully, this will show how easy it should be and how we're not asking that much of the camp.  Kid is enrolled, mom happy, and camp comfortable they are prepared.  A win for everyone.

So here are the steps we took for mini. 

Mini specifically requested a camp with as little swimming as possible
  1.  Found a camp close by where the kids bring their own lunch (we are probably at least a couple of years away from being comfortable sending her to a place where we can't control the food she eats)
  2. Narrowed the options down to ones that are nut-free (fortunately, most of them are these days!)
  3. Visited the camp in December to speak to a person face-to-face regarding their food allergy policies.  After they reassured this neurotic mother they take it very seriously, have all counselors trained on epipens just in case of emergency, and will work with me to make me comfortable, we were sold!
  4. Spoke with the camp director in early May to talk about her allergies in detail.  Sent them emergency instructions, signs and symptoms, as well as a list of snacks that are safe for her to eat.  Made an appointment to meet in person before camp.
  5. Came in to talk to camp director.  Gave the counselors a pouch to carry with them wherever she is.  Pouch has epipen, 2 benadryl packets, and an index card with emergency contact info and list of allergens with quick reminder to call 911 in case of emergency.  Gave another epi to the camp director to keep as backup.
  6. Went to their closet to look at all the snacks they give the campers.  Approved 50% of them as "safe". This was possible because the camp director checked before she went shopping and went out of her way to buy the brands that are safe (for example, we typically stay away from generics).   Gave them giant boxes from costco with safe, comparable alternatives that they could give her or any other kid.  Bonus: mini got to meet her counselors, which made her a lot more comfortable on her first day of camp.  Double bonus: she gets used to seeing the preparation involved, setting her up to know how to handle this on her own as she gets older.  
  7. Reviewed and agreed on "accomodations": 
  • Epi will always travel with her 
  • Note will be sent to parents of kids in her group requesting they voluntarily choose to not send in sesame due to severe allergies in the group
  • The kids will eat over disposable paper tablecloths so no table washing required
  • Everyone will wash hands after they eat
  • If the kids are having a snack she can't, they will give her a safe, comparable alternative
  • When her group goes to cooking (twice a week), a counselor will take her to another group where she will do an extra dance class instead.
Now you tell us, on a "pain in the ass" scale, where does this go?
  1. So easy it's like butter
  2. A little effort but not that big a deal and worth it
  3. A royal pain in the ass: counselors and parents will protest the inconveniences
  4. I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole!
Yeah.  We thought so.

So there you have it.  A good camp experience in six months or less.  Frankly, we see no reason for any camp or school experience to be any less smooth.  All it takes is a few open-minded peeps.
So thanks, awesome camp, for being quite awesome and putting up with a few minor inconveniences in exchange for our jaw-dropping tuition and an appeased neurotic mother.  Today, like any other kid, mini came home as one very happy camper.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

For the record, I do not think you're neurotic.

Do you know about Susan Weissman's work? If not, check her out. Another funny, insightful allergy mom writer to commiserate with.