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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bullying And Food Allergy

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.


Growing in Grace (Nicole) said...

These kinds of stories scare me for when my son is that age. He's 8 years old right now and so far has not experienced this. I really pray he doesn't have to.

Caroline said...

I tool feel the anxiety. One of my twins has a peanut allergy and just fighting the teachers and they're non compliance is scary enough, I feel it more and more each day as he approaches the age where kids can be teasers. He has a twin that will surely defend him and he is a " Take No Guff " kinda boy so, I pray that he will be popular enough to warrant a non bullying environment. Isn't that sad to say,that popularity could play a role in his safety. I feel this is the way society works and it is sad. But what else could I hope for in a society that excepts bullying as child play, even in life and death situations.

NoPeanuts said...

Hi Caroline,

Please email me as I would like to discuss the bullying issue with you further. It is also interesting that one twin has the allergy and the other twin doesn't.

My address is in my profile.


Anonymous said...

I believe that threats with food are not seen the same way as other kinds of bullying. I think this because when a child wanted to 'test limits' he chose to purposely spread peanut butter on my son's arm to 'see what would happen'.

This incident occurred when my son was 7 years old in grade two, during a lunch time that was supervised by grade 7 children with 1 adult per 100 patrolling the hallways. But by the grace of God, my son froze when the peanut butter was put on him and the child monitor ran to get an adult. The adult immediately washed his arm, where a hive had formed, and took him down to the office where the principal quickly called me and asked what to do. . . and then told me to come pick him up (which really upset my son because he missed an afternoon party because of he went home). Although the reaction ended at a hive or two -- and would have been different if my son had touched it and then his mouth, eye or nose -- to my horror I discovered a number of things:
1. The Benedryl I had given the school for minor reactions was locked up in the earthquake kit and they did not have access to it.
2. The EpiPen *I* had provided had just EXPIRED.
3. My son had been made to sit by himself at lunch time, and they told him it was the best way to keep him safe (they did NOT ask me about this). This one act brought a lot of attention to his allergy and singled him out, making him feel special in a way he did not like. I also found out that in this arrangement, if the regular table was not free, he ate near the cloak room, away from all his peers. This was near cruel for my social star of a boy, and it breaks my heart he did not tell me about this arrangement.
4. The principal did not know what to do in an emergency.
5. The students in the classroom really did not have an understanding of the allergy, had questions and didn't know who to ask.
6. But the thing that enrages me to this day is that this child's actions were called normal, limit-testing behavior. The principal did not talk to him about it (but to me at great length about my 'reaction'), nor did they approach the parents of this bully. Perhaps he had no malice, but we are just so lucky this didn't go in a different direction... and what would have happened then? He just needed to be told how he had put another child in danger! I chose not approach the family either because, well, I was near rabid after this happened and thought it might not be a good thing.... but the incident fueled my energy to make a change in the system, and to go all the way to the top for better policies on protecting kids with allergies. And I am still goin' at it!

Rant over. The whole situation still upsets me!

NoPeanutsAllowed said...

Thanks for creating this blog. The more there are the more the word will get out!

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Food allergies can be so annoying and bore, one always on the lock out on what and where to eat.