Back to School Tips
A child diagnosed with celiac disease is full of an abundance of changes for both the child, and the people apart of their lives. School-aged children are not always going to be in the direct care of their parents, presenting unique challenges outside of the home. Ensuring kids are kept safe from gluten exposure at school is important, both academically and socially. Lets make the gluten free school years as simple as possible for your child, the teachers and yourself!
Sending your child back to school can be overwhelming, add on the need to maintain a gluten free lifestyle and it becomes extremely overwhelming. Celiac disease will bring unique challenges on a daily basis.
You are not alone.
Each year, parents all across the globe face and overcome the challenges of staying gluten free at school.
Have patience, expect some hurdles, you will become pros at maintaining a safe environment for your child.
Staying Gluten Free At School
Dependent on where you live, some schools are required to accommodate a child’s gluten free needs. Assist by providing a plan and additional gluten free materials to support your school staff. In the United States, the school will request a 504 Plan.
What’s a 504 Plan? Gluten Intolerance Group states, “A 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from any federal agency. A 504 Plan can address all aspects of your child’s gluten-free needs at school, from having gluten-free snack options at class events, to avoidance of gluten-containing craft projects, to school lunches and food on class trips.”
Know the School Staff
It is critical to know who your child is interacting with on a regular basis.
They will be the key players in keeping your child healthy while out of your care. Each school’s support team will be different, and could potentially be different each year. Get to know them, and answer any questions they may have directly.
Be Prepared, For Everything
The easiest way to avoid an unwanted gluten contamination is to always be prepared.
Provide the teacher and school with celiac safe individual snacks to keep at school. Request a list of additional school supplies your child may need to participate in all class activities such as gluten free white glue, paints, party snacks, etc. It may come at an extra expense to you to keep your child safe, but better safe than left out of the fun!
Empower Your Child
Giving your child the education and empowerment of maintaining a safe and healthy gluten free life is important.
By providing them the information they need to be able to confidentially speak out about their gluten free needs at school, have the ability to explain and understand off limit foods and ingredients, and who to go to to support them at school will alleviate some worry for you, and your student. It is also important to instill the importance of not sharing food in class with other students.
Know the Risk Areas
Every school will have risks, and they can’t easily be avoided.
Gluten is not just found in the lunchroom. Make sure that your child and teacher are aware of the risks in additional areas of the school including the cafeteria, art classes, field trips, home economics, sports/club meetings, and class parties.
Spread the Word, Loud and Proud!
Time to pull out those dusty old pompoms from the closet, your child needs a cheerleader!
Spread the word beyond the school and openly communicate your child’s needs to parents and anyone who could potentially be providing foods and activities to your child. Give other parents the opportunity to give a heads up for classroom parties, giving you time to prepare an alternative (if necessary). The more parents that know, the safer your child will be. Parents of students that are non-celiac have very likely not heard a lot of favourable information about the gluten free diet your child needs, help them learn the reality of what Celiac Disease is.
Education is key to helping others understand that the gluten free diet is NOT a fad. Consider planning events at the school to help raise awareness for Celiac Disease. There are a lot of great ways to do this including gluten free bake sales, Celiac Awareness Day, Meet & Greets, or share a book with the class/school.