Tuesday, August 28, 2007

GFCF at School

The Prince just started school last week. He is attending a new school which has a very enlightened approach towards nutrition and takes a tough stance on junk food and birthday parties. The school has no vending machines at all and the cafeteria breakfast and lunch programs county-wide are based on a healthier protocol, eliminating things like chips and cookies from the menus. This school does not allow the celebration of birthday parties and does not use food as rewards in the classroom. So for me, this year it will be relatively easy to help keep The Prince GFCF at school.

Alas, it was not always so, and is not for many people. During The Prince’s first year of pre-K, he was in a mostly self-contained ESE class taught by an ASD specialist who was very familiar with the diet. The class was small and many of the kids were GFCF too, so I was lucky. During his second year of pre-K he was in a larger, more inclusion-type setting. This class was co-taught by an ESE and a Gen Ed teacher with more typical kids than ESE kids. The ESE teacher was again quite familiar with the diet, but the class was large and birthday parties abounded. The teachers also liked to use food treats as incentives and rewards. What’s a GFCF Mommy to do?

So I thought I would offer a few tips, and as usual offer some great “how to” links from my web research. Two helpful articles are Danna Korn’s The Kids are Back in School: Tips for Making the Gluten-Free Grade and as usual, my favorite TACA NOW which has an extensive School Implementation section including a list of safe school supplies.

Here is my overview of the basics:

Educate the Teacher: In my experience, many ESE teachers and therapists have at least a passing knowledge of the GFCF diet and its relationship to ASD kids, or have had children with allergies in their classrooms. But many general ed teachers are not at all familiar with special diets. Parents I know have differing opinions on how to handle discussing this with the teacher. Some favor going into all the reasons GFCF diets are beneficial for ASD children, and trying to get the teacher to see that if the diet is strictly followed, the child will behave better and do better in the class. Personally, I think this may be a “hard sell” to the general ed teachers who already have a lot on their plates, (no pun intended!). Others take a more hard-line approach, emphasizing the physical reactions their children have, along the lines of “If Johnny eats any gluten or casein, you will have a screaming, poo-flinging monster on your hands. Comply or else suffer the consequences!”

I prefer to strike a balance. I usually set up a meeting with the new teacher prior to school starting and include this in the list of everything else we need to discuss. I don’t go into the biomedical reasons behind the diet, unless the teacher seems interested. I merely state The Prince is allergic to gluten (and I explain what that is) and to dairy products. I purchased some handy-dandy cards from the magazine Living Without that are the size of a business card. They list briefly what is safe and what is not, and I give these cards to the teacher along with a short letter outlining the situation, expressing my appreciation for their help, and how I will make it easy for them.

Make it easy for the teacher: You can, of course, send your child’s lunch to school. Give the teacher a stash of shelf-friendly GFCF snacks and gummies to keep in the classroom. Ask the teacher to let you know in advance when there are birthday parties so you can provide GFCF cupcakes, etc. Offer to make food for the whole class and volunteer when there are holiday celebrations. If you can, get to know the lunch room personnel. They may be able to keep a watchful eye out for your little one. They may also let you keep a stash of cupcakes in the cafeteria freezer for unexpected occasions. Provide your own GFCF school supplies. In our county, the school provides very little in the way of supplies anyway, so this is not a problem for us. Everyone, GFCF or not, has to bring their own.

Educate your child: this of course varies by age and your child’s ability level. But if you can, try to teach them not to accept food from people they do not know. Teach them to ask the teacher if it is safe for them before they eat anything. Accidents do happen, and while we all feel so horrible to see our children suffering, this is unfortunately how my son truly learned to self-advocate. He remembered how terrible he felt and did not want to feel that way again, so now he is careful to ask.

Include the GFCF Diet in your child’s IEP: List this in the special accommodations section, that way every one in the school chain-of-command knows the situation.

Accidents Happen: Come up with a plan for what the teacher should do if the little Prince or Princess should eat another’s child’s goldfish or put Play-Doh in their mouths. This will depend on your child’s individual needs and the seriousness of their reaction to infractions. Most schools will not provide medications without a letter from your doctor. If you use digestive enzymes as an antidote, such as peptizyde, you will need a doctor’s note in your child’s file. Typically, schools will also not provide over-the-counter drugs to children either. If you use a remedy, like Pepcid AC, you may require that the school call you immediately after an infraction so that you can give your child the medicine.

1 comment:

Genie said...

I don't know, GFCF Mommy...I think if I were a teacher and were threatened with poo-flinging, I might listen up carefully to what the parent had to say. :-)

These are great tips! And while it is too bad that the Prince had to suffer to learn to be a self-advocate, that's an excellent skill to already have in place at his age. Very rock star of him!