Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Camp and your Food Allergic Child

My son has numerous food allergies, the most serious being peanut. However, allergies or not, his father and I want him to enjoy his summers. As a child, I attended a summer day camp when I was very young and then a sleepaway camp when I was older. We wanted the camp experience to be a part of his childhood, but both scenarios are daunting when dealing with a food allergic child. Unlike school, camp is more unstructured, more relaxed. How would the summer camp handle food allergies? How could I feel comfortable send him off each day? How did he feel about this adventure? We have had great success. I will share my experience, which I hope will empower you to allow your child to attend camp.

I consulted with my son’s allergist at Mass General Food Allergy Center and asked for guidance and encouragement regarding summer plans. Paul E. Hesterberg, MD, and his staff empowered me with knowledge and emotional support. All it takes is careful planning.

Find a camp that feels right to you

My son attends a private school that offers summer camps for kids. This made it simple, right? Well, not so fast. Although the environment would be familiar, I would be dealing with a whole new crop of counselors. To alleviate my own worries, I met with the summer program director as the school year was drawing to a close. I explained my son’s multiple, serious allergies, and I emphasized the need for everyone to understand the offending foods. The director insisted that everyone would know about his allergies, and they would call me at any time. In fact, the director programmed my phone number directly into her cell phone before we parted ways.

Ask the right questions

I made a list of questions, issues, worries that were on my mind. I asked about daily snacks, field trips, and even art-project materials. My son also has a severe allergy to egg. Would they be using egg-crates from home for art, which could contain egg residue? What about snacks? Would they adhere to the “no nut” and “no egg” guidelines that my son needed? What about field trips? I requested that the director let me know about all field trips. On a field trip, because we were concerned about what remains could be on the bus, we opted to drive him and met the group at the location.

Remind, Remind, Remind!

Don’t be shy when it comes to your child. I was certain to assess the staff each morning and, when necessary, remind them about my son. Sometimes different counselors switched rooms and teams. I made sure to let them know about my son’s allergies, and how they could reach me. When the director was off for two weeks, I made sure to touch base with the interim-director to let her know about my son. We are lucky. Our school—and thus the camp—are very accustomed to food allergies and it is very aware of accommodating all children. However, as every parent of a food allergic child knows, it takes only one mistake to bring on potentially life-threatening situation.

Let your child have fun

I believe that stress and fretting is contagious. When I lather my son with sun block and bug spray each summer morning, I make sure to keep my worries to myself. After all, during “bug week” he needs to be focused on caterpillars, slugs, and beetles and not on food allergies. Nothing is better than hearing about the giant castle he built in the sandbox and seeing his cheeks covered with sticky Popsicle stains when I pick him up at noon. This is a step-by-step process with our family. My son only attends a half-day camp. Rest assured when he asks to attend a full day camp, I’ll be looking back at this checklist, talking to our allergist, taking a deep breath, and then, like any good camper, jumping right in.

Thank you Mass General Food Allergy Center for always being there for us, rain or shine, hives or clear skin, you are always ready to guide us through life’s transitions.

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