Food Allergy Awareness :: The Faces of Inclusion

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My son, Owen, was diagnosed with multiple severe food allergies and multiple environmental allergies at 9 months old. I had zero history with food allergies.  In the beginning of our food allergy journey, I was so overwhelmed. I knew nothing. I was Jon Snow. {Where my GOT people at?}

I grieved for the limitations he would experience. I sobbed when I felt the exclusion of so many activities and situations because they were not safe environments for him. But, at some point I realized that I had to be his advocate. I had to have a heart that believed the world in general would be accepting to accommodations that would allow for inclusion. I held dearly to the belief that knowledge is power. This year, National Food Allergy Awareness week is May 12-18th. So, instead of a story of being excluded or of sadness, I want to share a story of inclusion. I want to share the stories of the wins. The stories of the people who have lovingly and willingly opened their minds and hearts to making food allergy inclusion a totally normal practice.  

Preschool

I work full time. I have to entrust my child to the care of his preschool. When his allergies came on the scene, that trust had to go to an entirely new level. Owen’s preschool director, Christy, jumped on the training bandwagon. She wanted to know all the things and better yet, how to make life for Owen similar to his classmates. I am not talking a small game, people. She partnered with me and another awesome food allergy mama and had Teal Pumpkin Project Education Day. Check out my prior post highlighting their efforts. She has made sure to make every school festival allergy inclusive. The Spring Fling had non-food prize options at every game. The Easter egg hunt had eggs filled with safe versions of candy and non-food prizes as well. Now, on to Owen’s teacher, Ms. Jessica. Jessica thinks outside of the box. She keeps Owen and his allergies in mind when she lesson plans. She found a recipe to make safe play-doh so the entire class could participate and the learning environment would remain allergen free. These ladies have made marks on my family’s heart that will remain for a lifetime. 

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 Community and Neighborhood Support

Advocacy is a tricky thing. You don’t know how your message will be received, especially when it comes to a larger audience of strangers. When I shared Owen’s story and requested for people in my subdivision to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project, I had zero idea the support that would follow. I started seeing rapid fire addresses pop up on the feed. So many strangers within my very own community had never heard of the Teal Pumpkin Project and were happy to participate. A little education went a long way. That advocacy then had a trickle effect. The next HOA sanctioned event, Trunk of Treat, had non-food treat options. The HOA sanctioned Easter Egg Hunt had a designated allergy friendly hunt area. The events coordinator, Kathleen, saw the need and found practical ways to implement inclusive events. Her thoughtfulness and openness opened my eyes to see my community as an integral part of our story and lives. I still tear up every time I see the designated allergy friendly options on our subdivision social media page.

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Friends

Playdates. Birthday parties. Group vacations with friends. These are all experiences that tend to have food related aspects. If I didn’t use my voice to educate my friends, they wouldn’t have known they could do small and sometimes even big things to make my entire family feel included. My heart still flutters when I receive a text from a classmate’s parents about safe cupcake options for birthday parties. My friends and I have started annual vacations with our families. These trips are so special and filled with so many memories for us and for our children. Straight out of the gate, they offered to make any meal modifications necessary to make the entire trip relaxing and fun for everyone. My girlfriends were all on handwashing duty like they had a PhD in hand sanitization. Just them being aware of Owen’s allergies and alert to potentially dangerous situations helps this mama out. 

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Family

Family is in the trenches with you. They see it all. They know the work and extra thought that goes into making life fun and adventurous when you are bound to certain limitations. Inclusion with family takes on many faces. It’s your aunt cracking a “confetti egg” that is in a plastic egg at Easter {check out the video below….oh my heart}. It’s your sister running ahead of you on the playground to check the equipment for food so you can stay and play with all the other kids. It’s your dad making your breakfast look as exciting as everyone else’s at the table, or your mom telling anyone who will listen about food allergies and how they can help. We have such an amazing support system within our family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all do their part to keep Owen safe and included. We wouldn’t be as successful in our journey without a single one of them.

 

Writing this post has had the tears flowing. Remembering all the ways people have stepped up in our lives to make our son be included makes my heart feel like it could actually pop out of my chest. I am so filled with love and am forever grateful. The people and groups featured in this post always do their best to remind me that these changes to promote inclusion are no inconvenience and that they love doing it. So, mamas, don’t let the fear of judgment or inconvenience attack your mind….do it anyway. Advocate and spread awareness like it’s your JOB. Your kids deserve it and so do you! Your people will most likely surprise you and really step up to make your child have the same or similar experiences as their peers without food allergies.  

Resources

Education is the first piece of the puzzle; knowledge is power. The links below can fill you in on facts about food allergies. If you have someone in your life who manages food allergies, make an effort to have a conversion with them. Ask any questions you may have. I promise you, they will be touched by your interest. The Food Allergy Research & Education Organization {otherwise known as FARE} has a new campaign #ContainsCourage. As a food allergy parent, ‘what do these ingredients contain’ is a common daily question. Our kids “contain” so much more than just their allergies. They are defined not by their allergies, but by all the awesome characteristics that make them unique.  Please, if you only follow up with one thing on this post, watch their Contains: Courage Campaign 2019 video below. 

www.foodallergy.org

www.kidswithfoodallergies.com

https://www.aafa.org/food-allergies/


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2 Responses to Food Allergy Awareness :: The Faces of Inclusion

  1. Avatar
    Jessica Wasch June 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm #

    I love this so much!! It’s important to recognize the people who step up in our children’s lives and promote safety and inclusion. Thank you for sharing!! ❤️

    • Laura A
      Laura A June 13, 2019 at 2:15 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I 100% agree with you, those great supporters in our lives need some love!!!!

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