Starting school or going back to school for kids with celiac disease (CD) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity takes planning and good communication skills with those caring for your child at school.
This is an excerpt from another article called Parenting a Child with CD. This section deserves specific attention at this time of year when your child is either starting or going back to school with very specific dietary needs.
Communicating with Teachers, School Nurses, Aides and Caregivers
It makes sense to try to teach your child to always ask when food is offered to them if it is gluten-free that helps alert the adults offering the food that maybe they can’t eat this.
Another very vital step in the process is to talk with your child’s teacher and be sure they understand why it is imperative to have a solid connection between home and school. My son shared food in kindergarten and I received a call from the teacher explaining how much trouble he got into that day. She stated, “He just wasn’t himself.” Without going into to too much detail he had a bowel movement that evening and I knew he ate something he shouldn’t have. The next day I spoke with the teacher and explained this is what happens when he eats gluten. She was shocked. It would be helpful for the teachers and aides to recognize the signs of a reaction and how to treat it properly.
Most schools do not have gluten-free items in their hot lunch programs, although this is slowly changing. It may help to speak with the school program director to see if this is something they are now incorporating into the public school system. Fortunately, there is help for you now when communicating your needs to the schools. Children on a medically necessary eating plan who attend public schools (or federally-funded private schools) may be elegible for a 504 plan. Which is a written agreement between the family and the school that outlines the needed accommodations for a child to keep them safe while at school or in the care of others. This can be very specific for the needs of a child with celiac disease. It should include availability of gluten-free foods in the cafeteria, training the kitchen staff in label reading and prevention of cross-contamination and set guidelines for in-classroom food for birthday parties or special lunches for field trips. A sample of a 504 plan for children with celiac disease are offered online and can be a starting point. There is a thorough sample of a 504 plan for children with CD from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). Since I like to control cross-contamination, I pack lunches for my kids. Check out bento boxes and there are loads of recipes for fun items to pack. If you must do hot lunch talk with the cook and give your child a list of foods to choose from.
Another important detail to discuss with your child’s teacher is the need to use the bathroom. In first grade my son’s teacher reported he was in the bathroom for a long time sometimes and this can happen but not something you would think of to discuss with the teacher.
CAUTION: Potential Gluten in the Art Room or Using Arts and Crafts in the Classroom or in CLub Programs
Some of the “hidden sources” of gluten that may be found in the classroom or art room are: play dough, flour used to create paper mache pieces, cereal pieces, pasta pieces that are used to glue onto art projects, flour, paste, envelope or stamp adhesives. Surfaces and hands should be thoroughly washed and cleaned after using these. Be aware that flour that is flying in the air can be enough to cross-contaminate even the gluten-free options. Communicating with the teachers and offering to replace any of these items with gluten-free ones would be helpful.
Being your child's advocate is critical to keeping them healthy and happy. Open communication with any of the adults that will be interacting with your child is also a way to role model what they will need to do for themselves, eventually. When you're not around, you want to be sure they're having the best life and learning experience possible!