2.07.2013

Food Allergies, Bullying and a Ray of Hope

I am saddened by the number of stories I have read lately about children with food allergies who have been bullied by a peer due to their allergy. The statistics are staggering and speak for themselves:

According to the Kids with Food Allergy Foundation, "A recent survey conducted by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), showed that 79% of food-allergic children and teens reported bullying, teasing, or harassment related to their food allergies. Of those bullied, 57% described events in which someone touched them with their allergen, waved it in front of them, or threw it at them."

I know that bullying is a big, controversial topic in our world. None of it - absolutely none - is right or okay. I am sure I will never understand why people feel the need to treat others in a negative way. I am extremely a little biased and have a greater understanding of food allergy than I do of other situations that could entice one child to bully another, so this hits close to home. But seriously, throwing a food item at a child whom you know is allergic to it?!? I imagine these children don't truly understand the repercussions of their actions and the severity of food allergy and anaphylactic reactions.

Anaphylaxis
Definition: A rapidly progressing, life-threatening allergic reaction.  
Description: Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances from the environment.  Unlike other reactions, however, anaphylaxis can kill.  Reaction may begin within minutes or even seconds of exposure, and rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation, and altered heart rhythms.  In severe cases, it can result in complete airway obstruction, shock, and death.

I don't mean to be a Debbie-downer, and my true intentions for this post are as follows: For every child who is cruel to others and is a bully, there is another who is thoughtful, selfless, and considerate of their peers. The example I'm going to use makes my heart swell with pride and love.

Mason has an older sister named Ciara. She is a beautiful, funny, loving 12-year old. Just the other day, her mother told me a story about Ciara. One of her classmates is a boy with a peanut allergy. When Ciara brings food to school for their class, she brings the box in order for the boy to read the labels himself. If she knows he can't eat that item, she will pick up something that is safe for him so that he will be included. None of her other classmates do this for him. Her reason behind doing this: Mason. She knows how important avoiding allergens is because of her little brother.

Hearing this story brought me to tears. Not only because I understand what a big deal it is, but because I am incredibly happy to hear a positive story about a child doing something out of the kindness of her heart. Because she is including him when no one else does. Because she thinks of someone and puts their needs first. Because she thinks of her little brother and has learned something from him. The list of reasons why I am SO proud of her goes on and on.

I get discouraged at times, thinking of all of the preparation we, as parents of food-allergic kiddos, go through to protect our children, teach them and others to be cognizant of their needs, hope and pray that every day has a safe outcome.... only to know that we can never be fully prepared for that possible reaction. Bullying scares me. I don't ever want my child, or any other, to be bullied for any reason, especially not something so completely out of their control. I cringe to think that we as parents wouldn't teach our children the difference between right and wrong, and teach them how to treat others.

But I am encouraged by stories like Ciara's. She gives me a ray of hope in an otherwise dim and twisted world.

To learn more about food allergy awareness and education in a format your children will understand, click here.
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