The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time for students and parents alike. Many students look forward to meeting up with friends and sharing about their summer vacation adventures. Also, there’s the prospect of meeting new teachers and learning more about the world around them as well as embarking on new activities, like school clubs and sports. A new school year holds promise for many. However, for some families, this can be a stressful start of nine long months with much left to the unknown.
When dealing with food allergies and chronic conditions that restrict a child’s diet, parents often have to advocate for caution on their student’s behalf. This task is much more than a simple note to the homeroom teacher. It can involve scheduling meetings with faculty, administration, and other staff members, like cafeteria personnel. In the event, that requests for dietary adjustments or even for vigilance are ignored, then parents or guardians have to “move up the chain of command” and try to arrange meetings with the local school board and the district’s administrative members. Naturally, for any parent, though, this is a small price to pay to ensure a child’s safety, but what if there were ways to make this process easier?
The organization, Allergy Reality, was founded by two moms who have children with food allergies. They have made education and advocacy their mission and more recently have launched a YouTube channel to spread their message along with an app that features educational games. Both of these media could lead to broader access to information about food allergies and could even serve as resources for both parents and teachers.
The Story behind Allergy Reality
Allergy Reality was founded by two moms who searched for information about their children’s food allergies which can be quite a challenge for any family. They both made a similar discovery—some of the information out there relating to food allergies carries a negative connotation.
So Cora Barajas and Megan Dow took matters into their own hands. Cora Barajas, a wife and mom of four and sonographer and Megan Dow, also a wife and mom of two and a chef possess a firsthand insight into the situation of living with food allergies. Both sets of children were diagnosed at a very young age.
Megan’s son was diagnosed with a milk allergy as an infant. At his three-month appointment, Megan received a prescription from the pediatrician for her son’s acid reflux. (He had been colicky all that time.)The doctor also recommended omitting dairy from Megan’s diet since she was nursing. Consequently, Megan opted for the dietary change of leaving out dairy products altogether and not giving the medication to the baby due to its harsh side effects. As a result, her baby felt so much better. However, Megan’s story doesn’t end there. As a chef, she found that cutting out a food group was tough, to say the least; nonetheless, she used her creativity in the kitchen to invent recipes where the dairy ingredients can be replaced. Aside from sharing the culinary concoctions, she has also put the word out to educate her audience about food allergies and how to manage them while still enjoying meals and snacks.
Likewise, Cora also experienced the worry any parent would have when a child is sick, and there are no fast answers in sight. As Cora describes in her You Tube video, her daughter suffered from bouts of nausea and vomiting and at times, even hair loss. In addition to these symptoms, she seemed rather “small” for her age, which was something that the pediatrician did not perceive as a matter of urgency. However, the stomach issues were taken lightly, and their doctor ordered tests for cancer, leukemia, and kidney problems. Finally what steered Cora in a different direction was remembering that celiac seems to run in her family, as in the case of her brother and her niece. After discussing the possibility, the pediatrician referred them to a GI specialist who then ordered more lab work and an endoscopic biopsy. Sure enough, the Barajas’ toddler was diagnosed with celiac disease. Immediately, Cora searched the Internet for more information about gluten free foods and about managing this condition. As mentioned in her video, she encounter “a lot of negativity and confusion.” A lot of articles and blogs seemed to focus more on the misery, and there were mixed definitions of “gluten free” and which foods and beverages are allowable and safe. All of the reading material and sites seemed overwhelming, but Cora put the whole situation into a more positive perspective. A lifelong dietary change did not seem as frightening as chemo or dialysis which is what the Barajas family previously thought they would have to face. So she created Serving Celiacs. Her page started out on Instagram where she shared her family’s story. Later on, she met Megan, and the two of them embarked on the journey of creating Allergy Reality which deals with the subject of food allergies in an upbeat and educational manner that appeals to a wide variety of audiences. From there, a blog on Word Press, an app, and a You Tube channel were born.
The App’s Features
The new Allergy Reality app is a learning tool that appeals to all ages, from children to adults. One feature includes puzzles, matching games, and word searches. The original songs that are played on the app teach about ingredients that are safe and root words in such a way that engages the audience’s attention along with colorful graphics. Plus, users can “earn” trophies and badges as they advance to each level. All features of the app serve the purpose of instructing about the discernment of foods and beverages that won’t cause a flare in a fun and interesting manner.
The New Channel
Along with the app, Megan and Cora have also launched their own You Tube channel. This channel features their stories and updates about their journeys and how the children are managing with their food allergies. This channel also includes tips from Chef Megan about school lunches and school functions, like classroom parties. There are also informative videos about the symptoms of celiac and what to look out for that are presented by Cora. Another set of positive and inspirational videos is titled “For Kids By Kids,” and of course the stars are children and tweens. They share what they have learned from doctors and their own experience in such a way that engages audiences of their peers or even adults.
Application for Advocating
Basically, any of these modes of information can be utilized by anyone—from parents of a recently diagnosed child to classroom teachers who are looking for ways to train colleagues about how to safely deal with food allergies or to inform students of the reality of these situations without overstepping any confidentiality policies.
The apps can be easily downloaded at home or for schools that have access to technological learning labs. The games, graphics, and music make learning about a complex topic more comprehensible and accessible for all.
And of course, the blogs contain valuable information for meal and snack preparation and much needed support for anxious parents who are starting out on their own journeys of keeping their children safe and healthy.
To suggest this material for school use could require a visit with faculty and administration and perhaps even the local school board. However this would be time well-spent if it opens up communication and gives parents another avenue to take when educating and advocating about food allergies.