I was fortunate to attend the recent FAAN Teen Summit, held just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia. From dating with allergies to peer pressure to living with multiple food allergies and even the importance of participating in clinical trials, my 96 fellow food-allergic students aged 11 through 22, listened, talked and debated our way through a range of provocative topics.
FAAN Teen Summit kicked off on clinical trials. Dr. Hugh Sampson, the famous allergist and researcher from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained in a video how clinical trials for food allergy desensitization work and why they’ve so far proven very effective.
For those unaware, the continuing clinical trials  are studies being done to see how individuals can be cured of food allergies. Currently, they use the process of a food challenge, in which someone eats a very minuscule amount of what they are allergic to, and then gradually eats more and more of the food until they can eat a full serving of what they’re allergic to. With severe food allergies, this desensitizing process can take between two and three years.
While some students expressed nervousness about trying such a trial, Kendall Hollinger, 14, said she would definitely go for it. “If I would be eligible, I would totally do it, even though it’s really, really scary. It would be great to grow out of an allergy,” said the student from California. “I would want to be the person who’s brave enough to go against everything they’ve gone against their whole life and grow out of an allergy.”
Friday night was a fun casino evening. And then on Saturday, it was down to food allergy business. The teens and the 99 parents in attendance split into two separate groups, then among the teens there were breakout sessions for: Middle School, High School & College, and Siblings.
Kendall, 14 on clinical trials: “I would totally do it,
even though it’s really, really scary.”
There was a famous face in the crowd at the High School & College session: Kenton Duty, the 16-year-old star of the Disney show “Shake it Up”. Yes, even the famous aren’t immune: he is allergic to cocoa (chocolate). Kenton says: “My favorite topic was the psychiatrist because it was interesting to hear the discoveries of how anxiety and reactions were influencing the teens. He wrapped it up well.”
The Teen Summit provided a Saturday Night Social for the teens only, featuring good and loud music – and dancing. On November 20, the last day of the summit, the teens and adults came together for a Q&A session. Questions were directed alternately to the teens and the adults, and various audience members offered answers.
Next: Peer Pressure
From previous page
To a question about the effects of peer pressure, Brian, 12, explained: “People didn’t come to my birthday party. Apparently the parents thought that I was ‘different’ and had food allergies, and so since I was ‘different’ they wouldn’t allow their child to come. It was really unfair.”
What I appreciated the most was the chance to share experiences, solutions, and funny stories with other teens that get food allergies. As always with the FAAN Teen Summit, many new friendships were made through discussion, debate, and of course, dancing!
Next year, FAAN plans to hold the Teen Summit in Washington D.C.  again, around mid-November, so if you want to attend, please sign-up when the opportunity arises!