Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We're stuck on food allergy stickers

I am always curious as to the measures other allergy moms take to ensure that others who might come into contact with their food-allergic child when they aren't around know about the child's allergies. Because I have worked part-time since Ainsley was four months old, she has been in daycare (I prefer to call it "nursery school," because daycare has a negative connotation in our society) for several years. When we first discovered her allergies, we tried a variety of approaches to try and remind her regular teachers as well as any substitutes she might encounter that she has allergies and should not be fed certain foods.

We first tried a sticker that we put on the table at the spot where she sat for snacks and meals every day. But that didn't work very well for us - once a substitute gave her cheese cubes by putting them right on top of the sticker.

We also put a notice up in her room that informed everyone in big letters that a child in the classroom had allergies and also outlined the emergency procedures that the staff should take if she was fed an allergen or had an allergic reaction. But the staff never seemed to take notice of this (I should mention at this point that eventually we had a not so amicable parting with this school and, for the last two years, Ainsley has been at a much better school in terms of its allergy awareness).

When Ainsley moved to her new school two years ago, I decided to take another approach. I printed out a sheet of stickers that informed whoever read it that she had food allergies and listed what she was allergic to (I know there are stickers like this or this available for purchase, but I decided it was easier, and much cheaper, to make my own). Now, before you say, "Wow, what a great idea!" I have to admit that Ainsley Allergy Sticker 1.0 was neither subtle nor cute. It consisted of a giant white mailing label (I think it was 4" x 6") that used 20-point font (capital letters, of course). Just in case someone somehow missed the sticker on her front, we put an identical one on her back. Thankfully, the kid was just 2 years old and had no idea what we had done to her.

In the years since, we have refined our sticker system. Version 2.0 was a small starburst in snazzy neon pink, yellow, or green (I bought a pack of Avery labels that had sheets of various neon colors). I shortened the statement to say "ALLERGIC TO DAIRY, EGGS, & PEANUTS/NUTS" or something to that effect. Unfortunately, it seems Avery discontinued those sunbursts because, in the past year, I haven't been able to find them anywhere. So now, for version 3.0, I use a small rectangular Avery label (1" x 2 5/8") that comes in the same neon colors. The current one reads,

(to dairy, eggs, & peanuts/nuts) --
Only feed me food that my parents have approved!

Now we only put one on her, usually in the same place that someone would put a nametag. Below is a pic of one of the printed stickers. If you want to look for them in a store, they are Avery 5979, "Neon Assorted High Visibility Labels." So far version 3.0 has worked well for us. People seem to have no trouble spotting her sticker but it is small enough to not be distracting. A mom of another child in Ainsley's current preschool class said that she immediately noticed the sticker on Ainsley and thought, "Wow, that mom is serious about her kid's food allergies." Mission accomplished.

I must add, though, that I doubt I'll be able to do the sticker thing for more than the next couple of years. One day, she will (very reasonably) find the stickers embarrassing. But by that time, my hope is that we will have taught her enough self-protection skills that she can keep herself safe by informing others of her allergies and not eating food she thinks might have any allergens in it. Or maybe she'll just outgrow all of her allergies before then so we won't have to worry about them anymore (a mom can dream, right?). Until then, I just take things one day at a time, and at this point in time, the sticker system is working, so we're going to stick with it (yet another bad attempt at humor).


Allergy Mom said...

When she's too old for the sticker, you can probably transition her to a medic alert bracelet. I've taught my 5 y.o. son that if a grown up doesn't understand that he can't eat something due to his food allergies, to just point at the bracelet, since unfortunately many adults don't "believe in" food allergies. (They believe in diabetes just fine and they can't see it either!) LIbby

Allergy Mom said...

Oops, just saw your medic alert post!

Kathleen said...

Thanks for the post. I am a mom of two with food allergies. Just trying to figure it out. I will definately make my own stickers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your blog. My son is allergic to peanuts and dairy. Do you have creative ideas for school lunches? He gets the same thing pretty much everyday. We have a variety of snacks for him--but the sandwich part is the same. He is only 3 so he does not complain.:)