In the Fall 2010 issue of Allergic Living, we turned to three allergy advocates and moms to help navigate the world of the kid’s birthday party.
Gina Clowes, a Certified Life Coach and founder of AllergyMoms.com; Beatrice Povolo the director of marketing and communications for Anaphylaxis Canada and Susan Clemens, the moderator of allergicliving.com’s Forum and an allergy advocate. All three have children who live with multiple food allergies.
Here’s a sampling of the advice they had to offer:
Step 1: Initial Reply to the Invitation
It’s important to call soon after receiving the invitation.
The Call: Start with a gracious thank you and acknowledgement that your child is thrilled to be invited. Now move into the key points:
• Politely ask where the party will be held. For instance, will it be at a venue or the hostess’s home?
• With this information to guide you, bring up (or remind of) your child’s food allergies. Ask if now is a good time to go over a few details to both keep your child safe and resolve any initial concerns about child’s attendance.
• Stress that you’re happy to help in any way, and calmly move onto:
- Will the party involve a meal or snack?
- What activities will take place? Might there be a risk of exposure to allergens? Look for solutions to minimize any risks.
- What will be the order of activities? For instance, if the party starts with a pizza lunch and your child’s dairy allergic, could the hostess and her helpers ensure the kids have all washed up, and then your child will arrive post-lunch but pre-cake presentation?
• If the party includes lunch at a home, discuss that you’ll send your child with something safe to eat. More in Step 2.
• Discuss cake arrangements. See Step 4.
• Ask the parent if she is familiar with an auto-injector or EpiPen. Ask to set a date closer to the party to grab a coffee with her and demonstrate the use of the auto-injector and do a review of the anaphylaxis emergency plan (also called the food allergy action plan). Step 5 details that conversation.
Step 2: What to Bring
If lunch is being served, our allergy mom advocates prefer a strategy of telling the hostess you’ll send your child with a comparable safe lunch. (You may need to explain briefly that there are issues such as hidden ingredients that can make allergen avoidance more difficult than it sounds.) Sending your own is the safest and easiest way to go.
• For allergies like nuts, peanuts – why not offer to contribute the ice cream? That way, it will be allergy-safe and, bonus, you’re helping.
• Beatrice Povolo says: “lf they’re having pizza from a local restaurant, I’ll make or buy pizza that is similar.” She finds this helps her son to not feel “different.”
• For a house party, Povolo offers to bring a snack that her son and the rest of the kids will all like. Perhaps a party size bag of safe potato chips.
• Susan Clemens always brings lots of wipes. Ever handy around allergic kids and others don’t always have them.
Step 3: What You Can Do
• Why not offer to help supervise the party? Many parties require extra adult eyes, such as mini golf, play gym and kids’ theatre outings. This is also true of larger home parties.
• Whether you drop off your child or stay depends on the party situation, the hostess’s level of comfort managing allergies, and your child’s anxiety level and ability to manage his or her allergies. Trust your instinct on this.
• If the party will be at a facility, such as an indoor playground, wave pool, museum or beading venue, contact the management to inquire about allergen policies. (Quite a few facilities catering to kids now have peanut/nut restrictions.)
• Restaurants don’t usually permit outside food. But if you explain the allergies in advance, you’ll often be allowed to bring along safe food from home.
Step 4: The Cake
What’s a birthday without a cake? But, of course, it presents one of the biggest allergy risks.
• Relieve the hostess of the burden of trying to provide an allergy-free cake. Offer to bring your allergic child’s own slice of cake or cupcake. That way, your child is included but safe. To help your child fit in, Clemens says to ask that the “special” cupcake or slice isn’t served before the first piece of birthday cake.
• This said, Povolo has found it fairly common for the birthday child’s parents to ask if there is a bakery she can recommend for buying a safe cake. She does know of some. “lf they do that, l offer to pick it up.”
Step 5: In-Person Follow up
This is your planned meeting with the party hostess or hosts, perhaps over a coffee.
• Quickly re-confirm the events at the party, and the food that’s being served. Explain the concept of cross-contamination in the kitchen, stressing that if your child’s safe foods are kept separately and touched with fresh utensils, there should be no issues.
• Bring a copy of your child’s anaphylaxis emergency plan for the parent, and point out the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction.
• Stress that if your child was to get symptoms, prompt use of the auto-injector is the correct action. Explain why: it’s easier to stop a reaction in the early phase.
• Auto-injector training: First, try to defuse fear – it’s not a “big needle,” it’s a life-saving device. Gina Clowes brings along an orange and an expired EpiPen and lets the parent give the orange a practise dose. Or simply bring along an auto-injector (EpiPen or Twinject) and a trainer for demonstrating.
• Mention that the emergency protocol after injection is to call: first 91 l, then you.
• Be sure to thank the party hostess profusely for her efforts to accommodate your child.
• Povolo and Clowes say this meeting is also important for letting the host parent express her own comfort level. lf there is hesitance about using the auto-injector in an emergency, Povolo would always “offer to help supervise during the meal.”
• Important: do the auto-injector training before the party. The hostess is far too busy on party day.
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