It is interesting that the criminal charges laid this week in Kentucky comes just after an article on bullying by ABC. The article featured a case of bullying where a girl had an apparent reaction to the smell of a peanut butter cup that was opened in her vicinity. (The prevailing wisdom is that it takes an airborne particle to cause an 'odor reaction', though the odor of a peanut has been shown to cause a psychosomatic response.)
The article noted that the incidence of bullying is rising, though bullying is nothing new. In my school days I do not recall ever encountering food allergy, though bullying and intimidation were just something you dealt with. When most people think of bullying they conjure up images of physical conflict, though (as noted in the article) verbal abuse can be more serious.
Allergic Living recently wrote an article about children with food allergy developing anxiety. I surmise that bullying can help foster that anxiety.
Here are two cases in point. The VanEssendelft children in the ABC report, both of whom have peanut allergy, have been subjected to stressful situations:
- Sarah, 14, grew up with a group of girls that "attended birthday parties and play dates and had always kept a careful eye out for peanuts. Yet, still, the girls tried to test her allergy." Recently, however, these girls did not believe that her reaction to the odor of the peanut butter cup was real, so they decided to make a statement in the lunchroom by organizing a 'peanut party'. Thankfully a friend tipped Sarah off about the plan, telling her that the girls were bringing "everything peanut they can find, to watch your face blow up".
- David, 13, recently had a "kid in the locker room say, 'I'm going to put peanut butter on the ball and I'm going to serve it to you so you have to set it,'". Apparently peanut jokes are common from this kid and he has said he wants to see David use his auto-injector.
Kids can be harsh. Clearly they do not appreciate the risks associated with severe food allergy and anaphylaxis.
The article also quoted Anne Munoz Furlong, founder and CEO of FAAN. "Whenever we talk about kids with food allergies in schools, their friends are a huge influence and can keep them safe. We have very often had teenagers tell us that their friends are their body guards, their friends are their eyes and ears."
The teen years are hard enough. A food allergy adds another level of complexity. Though it would be difficult to go through school facing these issues, I would also suspect that a certain resiliency, responsibility and strength of character could develop as a result.
While others can certainly provide support and assistance, the allergic individual is ultimately the one responsible for managing their own allergy. Best wishes to all of the Sarahs and Davids out there.