Food allergies are restrictive and cause anxiety for the allergic child and his parents. Despite the strict lifestyle they impose, children who suffer from it can go to summer camp, provided they take precautions.
In Quebec, it is estimated that 40,000 elementary school students live with food allergies and that 7% of families have at least one allergic person. Although the severity of the reactions differs from one individual to another, the psychological and socialconsequences are almost all the same: inconvenience (having to read labels, constantly explain the allergy), disruption of lifestyle, fears, tendency to isolation, etc..
However, as Marie-Josée Bettez, editor-in-chief of the website Outsmarting allergies and co-author of the best-selling Outsmarting food allergies, puts it, "c e n' Isn't because you can't eat everything, that you can't do everything". Children, allergic or not, need to have their own experiences and know that they can make their dreams come true.
When he was a child, Marie-Josée's son happily attended holiday camps, despite the many food allergies (about thirty) from which he suffered. According to Ms. Bettez, the preparation, communication and involvement of the young person are the keys to ensuring a smooth stay.
So that everything goes well
Preparation and communication
Before sending your allergic child to a camp, good preparation and some usual checks are essential. Even if the member camps of the Association des camps du Québec are able to welcome children with allergies and are certified1, it is preferable to communicate upstream with the management of the establishment to ensure that all instructors and staff have adequate training.
To help you lay the foundations for he althy and effective communication, here are the essential questions to ask, according to Marie-Josée Bettez.
- In general, what measures are taken to avoid food allergies?
- What is the anaphylactic shock response plan?
- Do the monitors know how to recognize the first symptoms of an allergic reaction?
- Do they know how to use an auto-injector properly?
If your child's food allergiesare numerous and/or complex, perhaps you could provide cutlery and food (in a cooler) for the duration of camp? Littleestablishments suggest it from the outset, but the majority of them are open to this solution.
A few weeks before the start of camp, send the person in charge of registering your child an identification form with an emergency plan signed by your child's doctor. This sheet should include a photo of your child, as well as the emergency numbers to contact if necessary. In this regard, the site Allergies Québecoffers a we alth of advice and an interesting tool to properly construct the said file.
Important points to communicate
Here is a reminder of important points to mention to camp leaders and counsellors.
- Type of allergy
- For each allergy, identify the severity (contact, ingestion, intolerance, mild, severe, fatal, etc..), even if any allergy must be taken seriously
- The signs and symptoms to look out for and what to do about them
- In case of allergy, does the child have an auto-injector or other medication to take and if so, what is the dosage to take?
In your child's luggage
In your child's luggage, a minimum of one epinephrine auto-injector is suggested, but having two would be more prudent since in certain situations, a second dose may be necessary.
Without making the situation dramatic and putting all the weight of the responsibility on the shoulders of the child, it is important that the latterbe part of the solution and know the behaviors to adopt to reduce the risk of allergic reactions. Ideally, he should be able to recognize his own symptoms and know how to use his auto-injector (note that if an allergic reaction occurs, some children, like some adults, are not able to self-inject however, it is to the child's advantage to know how to use their auto-injector).
For the majority of children, going to summer camp rhymes with independence and pleasure. For children with allergies, we must add to this magnificent combo, the feeling of inclusion and the confirmation that their condition will not control all spheres of their lives.
To go further
In Lunches reinvented, Marie-Josée Bettez and her son Christophe offer recipes to enjoy outside the home (at school, at camp, at the office, visiting, etc.), complete menus full of information and tips to better manage food allergies on a daily basis. Lunches Reinvented – Outsmarting Food Allergies, by Marie-Josée Bettez and Christophe Bettez-Théroux, Éditions Québec Amérique, on sale March 15, 2017.
- Certifiedcamps meet more than 60 standards that establish requirements for safety, supervision, programming, environment and nutrition.