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How to prepare your child with celiac disease for school and ensure that it's a safe environment for him or her.
Food is everywhere in the school system from preschool and day-care through middle school, high school and college.
Regardless of your child's age and level of school, it's important that you maintain a positive relationship with the school as you discuss options for keeping your child safe from gluten exposure. Remember, you are your child's best advocate and a successful advocate has a positive working relationship that will foster change.
The following ideas have been compiled to assist parents as they begin to prepare a school or day-care center for the entrance of their child with celiac disease. This list is not all-inclusive. Every school and child is unique. Please use only ideas that help you in setting up a plan for your child's school.
Important things to know:
Middle school and high School is often the time when students become most concerned with fitting in. Eating the 'same' foods at lunch as their peers often is especially important to the student with celiac disease. Identifying those foods and finding gluten-free options can be very important at this age.
Some students may bring their own lunch from home, however, many middle and high school cafeterias will have an increased selection of foods and snack items and, hopefully, some of these options may be gluten-free.
While the use of food within the classroom may decrease because of fewer parties, it can still be present in the curriculum. The use of food as "rewards" may also continue. Bake sales or other foods for purchase for fund-raising events can exist. Unlike in elementary school, your child may now be hesitant to have a parent approach the teacher or the school. The middle or high school student may decide to handle this issue on their own, or deal with the situation by avoiding foods all together.
It is best not to address celiac disease issues until your child has been accepted to college. Your child's dietary needs shouldn't be the deciding factor in your child's school choice, (but there are some things to bear in mind when doing the college search.)
Once your child has decided on his school it's time to call the school and ask to be connected to the head of the dining services department. Be prepared to explain the disease completely.
Find out the living options for freshmen at the school. Offer to provide a physician's letter describing celiac disease and the dietary limitations so that your child can be placed in a living situation that provides a kitchen/kitchenette near their dorm room. This will allow your child to have first preference when room assignments are made in the early summer. Inquire if hot plates, personal electric grills and appliances of that nature that can be used in dorm rooms. Most schools say no, but because of the medical condition your child may be eligible for an exception. Dorm room refrigerators and microwaves are very important for college students with celiac disease. Other things to keep in mind:
Chances are your child will get sick at school. They will have to educate the infirmary/health center staff about their celiac disease if they get sick enough to need care. Medical privacy regulations can make it hard for parents to talk to the infirmary staff, and if the child is over 18 years-old medical information can only be shared at the patient's request. Remind your child to contact the school's health center and inquire about the availability of gluten-free medications.
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