Enroll Child with Multiple Food Allergies in Preschool?

Updated on October 04, 2009
T.F. asks from Forest Hills, NY
18 answers

My son is allergic to about 7 things so far, including peanuts, dairy, wheat, fish, oranges, etc. We have to be extremely vigilant about what he is exposed to, and he has minor reactions (hives on face and/or body) about once or twice a month. He has also had a couple more serious reactions, although we have not had to use his Epipen yet.

I was planning to enroll him in half-day preschool as a 3 year old, as we did with my daughter, and just bring snacks for him. However, the two preschools I have spoken to so far were not willing to administer his Epipen if he needs it. The more I think about it, the more scared about sending him to preschool I become. Even if I find a school that is peanut-free, that is willing to administer Epipen, that we can afford and can get him to, how can teachers watching multiple children be as vigilant as he needs them to be? I'm concerned about second-hand exposure, e.g. a child eating something normal like a cracker or cheese, touching the table, then my son touches the table and then his eyes, nose, or mouth and has a reaction. So far, he doesn't realize when he's having an allergic reaction, so it's not like he could tell the teacher. He also has asthma, but I'm not concerned about that because we can just keep him home if he's wheezing.

Someone suggested to me that NYC might treat his multiple food allergies as a disability, and provide an aide to watch and monitor him. Has anyone heard of this? I would think they would be too cash-strapped to do something like that.

Is it worth sending him to preschool given his food allergies? The academic component, learning colors, letters, etc can be done at home, and the socialization can be delayed for a year or two, right? I would still send him to music, art, movement type classes where no food is served, and both our kids go to the park a lot when weather permits.

Any thoughts on the above would be appreciated!

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answers from New York on

My friend has a child with a long list of extensive allergies. She did find a daycare but it's 20minutes from her house. Where do you live? She is in Lenanon, NJ. If you are near there I can get the name. You mentioned NYC so if you are there then I'm not familiar with any places. but you could start him at a place in mornings till 11:30 before food is served perhaps.

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answers from Rochester on


Don't worry about socialization. He'll do fine. I wish I could give you a site for that, but most of what I have learned about socialization and 'need it to fit in' comes from first-hand experience.

It's not just about your comfort level with the preschool, it's about his life. Do you trust that a teacher, watching other kids, will have the reaction time to grab what this boy needs and administer it? (how severe are his reactions - an epipen says very severe!)

That being said, don't beat yourself up if YOU are the one administering it - you need to be calm, cool and collected - if and when something happens, you can feel like you're going too slowly and that you won't get there in time.

A playground can bring anything. PB on clothes may not be noticed by a parent or care provider. It gets wiped on the slide. Your son goes down, gets it on his pants. He doesn't touch it until he falls down and wipes off the seat - or later.

It can happen anytime, anywhere. Be comfortable with the care provider that they WILL respond, that they ARE trained to respond (there are CME hours for this). That they are competent enough to respond. That they fulfill not just your requirements but your son's.

Find other kids with allergies - there are groups out there that have a stipulation for no peanut products. You can start your own. My son belongs to one (when we can get there - it's been months d/t family stuff).

In time you can relax your vigilance as your son becomes more aware of his surroundings (and THAT takes time too, but is so dependent on his level of tiredness).

Good luck, I hope you win this battle with the allergies!

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answers from New York on

Boy, I am really sorry to hear that about the schools you have looked into. Two of my kids have food allergies (one of them multiple), and our private preK is fabulous about it, but that is because they have to be. There are sooo many kids now with food allergies—at least two in each of their classes. The entire facility is peanut-free, and each classroom has a sign-in sheet for the allergy mom to approve the class snack (each mom takes turns at bringing in snack for the week). They keep a set of epi-pens and benadryl for each allergic child (all properly labeled, provided by the parent) in the director's office, and every teacher is trained to use them. Every child washes their hands as soon as they come into class each day (this was put into place to keep sick days down, but it is great for the allergy kids!).

I would be scared to death, too. If it were me, I would either keep looking for something that suits your son's needs (and your peace of mind) or bag preschool this coming year. That would give you another year to look for something worthy. Missing preK at 3 years old--especially for the average boy--is not something that will ruin his future. A lot of parents wait another year anyway! He won't be behind in anything, so don't worry about that.

Good luck! This is just the first of many tough steps with allergy kids. I just sent my first one to public kindergarten in September, so I am coming down from that coronary myself! ;)

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answers from New York on

My 2 year old is allergic to a bunch of things, too. We weren't fortunate enough to be able to have him at home, so day care has been the route for us. He was diagnosed at 6 months with a few allergies and the list has grown a bit since.
I think the best way to battle this is to educate. We have had meetings with the teachers and have written up care instructions for him. They have changed their ways a bit in the classrooms. He sits at his own table or with the others depending on the type of snack. The kids all wash their hands after they eat, either with a wipe or at the sink.
At this age, it's not as bad because they aren't crawling around the dirty floor and the kids are not allowed to have cups/food anywhere but at the table. It makes things easier. He gets skin reactions every so often now but it's definitely gotten a lot better as he gets older.
I even brought in a local support group leader to do a lesson on allergies for the whole staff at the center.
The center has MAT certified teachers who are allowed to give EpiPen and we've even brought in the testers for them to try.
feel free to email me offline if you have additional questions. Leaving your child with a caregiver is a hard thing to do but it seems to be a lot harder when your child has so many allergies.

I believe education is the key.

Good luck.


p.s. I don't think aides are supplied for children so young but I could be wrong. check with your local school district or check out the website for protectallergickids.org, they've got a great message center with lots of info and support.

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answers from New York on

My daughter went to an Apple Montessori pre-K and K. The school was very diligent about what snacks people could bring. The ban was only officially for peanuts and peanut products and places that process peanuts, but they discouraged all nuts and would isolate a kid who brought some other nut product in for snack (as opposed to the child with the allergy). All Dunkin Donuts products were banned, they checked labels of granola bars, etc.

I don't know if they would administer an epi-pen or not.

On the socialization end, he does have an older sister, so he has some socialization there and you are planning on having other options if he's not in the pre-k/daycare, like music/art, etc. It doesn't sound like you NEED the pre-k for the daycare end. No preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, etc. is ever going to be as vigilant as a parent, but at some point you have to let them go. Right now it's a matter of when, and if you don't have to send him for daycare purposes, you have the luxury of choosing the when. There is NO HARM in NOT sending your child to preschool, they learn as many bad habits and behaviors there as they do good (they do learn good things!!!)

Your son will be fine with whatever you choose to do. It sounds like you are a very engaged loving parent who is not choosing between preschool and the TV. He's going to learn, he's going to socialize, and he'll be fine, whichever you decide. Do what makes sense to you!

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answers from Albany on

Hi There,
Last year my daughter went to a pre-school that was completely nut free (most are atleast peanut free). There was also a child in her class that had several allergies. The solution they used was that the mother of that child gave a list of snack foods that her son could eat, and the classroom teachers only served those snacks. (It wasn't a big deal to them because it was just a morning class, and they figured, kids at that age just need a few options and they alternated days)... I know he had an egg allergy and other things, but not wheat, so it wasn't as difficult. They had goldfish, saltines, animial crackers (specific brands) and sometimes cereal bars. Anyway, maybe there are some simple snacks that your child can eat that they can offer to the children in the class and not serve other things. (although, with a wheat allergy this could be very difficult in pre-school... very limiting for the other kids, which isn't fair either). On the other hand, I have worked in several pre-schools with special needs children. One girl had Celiac Disease and could not eat even a bit of anything with gluten without getting sick. Her mom simply gave the school some snacks she could eat, and they served them to her while the other kids ate their foods. Their are a lot of kids with food allergies out there, and they can't live their lives in a bubble... you just have to be careful. The one thing I would be adament about is use of the epi-pen. Not being willing to use it is discrimination. What would they do if he did have a reaction, let him stop breathing? Keep searching until you find a place that is willing to learn to administer it.

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answers from New York on

I'm sorry you've run into some difficult schools. You've gotten a lot of great advice here. I am in lower Westchester and found a wonderful nut-free nursery school with a nurse on staff. While other schools in the area were willing to take precautions with my allergic son, I felt so much more comfortable sending him to a place with a nurse ready and willing to jump in if a reaction occured (and one never did). I always sent his snack in so we knew it was safe and worked with the teachers if his class was doing a special cooking project, etc. so he didn't feel left out. Good luck!



answers from New York on

Hi T.,

I am shocked by this because in NJ we are required to take First Aid and CPR training. Part of that training shows you how and when to use and Epi-pen. Fortunately I have never had to use one but I do have them on site that have been prescribed from their doctors. My staff knows is all trained in how to use one. I have children with severe allergies as well and am a totally peanut free school. As you said preschool is not necessary for him at his age, however I think he should have the opportunity and he has a right to be able to attend the preschool. Even if some states do consider this a disability, no child is allowed to be discriminated against for a disability. I could be wrong but I have never seen an aid or a shadow provided for a food allergy. I would just keep looking I am sure you will find the right school for your child. It would be a red flag to me if a school was not willing. That tells me they have not had proper safety training for any type of emergency situation should one arise. Good luck and don't get discouraged I have at least 10 children enrolled in my school with food allergies. It is not uncommon and your child should not be left out because of something he has no control over.



answers from New York on

I live up in Connecticut and there are several kids in my daughters preschool class who have nut allergies and one who has multiple allergies. All the other parents seem very sensitive to keeping these kids safe and the school director gave us a list of snacks that are safe for the class room.
All kids and parents must wash hands before entering the classroom and the kids wash their hands several times during the day. The teachers check the snacks of all the students before eating to mane sure no allergy listed ingredients have come in.
I know that the director off the school keeps any epi pens or medications on hand and will administer them if needed.

My point is that I know that there are preschools out there that can deal with children with allergies and will not make a big deal out of it.
Keep looking and I hope you find a place you can trust for your son.
Best of luck,



answers from New York on

I am shocked that the teachers are not trained in using epipens! I am sending my son to school for the first time as well and I purchased pens specifically to leave at the school per their request. I say, keep looking. I spoke to several preschools (we are in NJ) and they were all able to accommodate allergic kids. The other suggestion I have is to send him to school with a container of brownies, cupcakes or the like that you have made so that he can participate in any birthdays or special occasions. Ask them to put the items in the freezer and take one out whenever they are celebrating a special events. My son's class already had a birthday and he didn't notice the difference between the cupcake he was eating and everyone elses.

Preschool is very important. Although you certainly can teach him colors, numbers and letters I feel like the only way they can learn socialization skills is to be around other children. Plus it doesn't hurt for him to learn to listen to other adults. He shouldn't have to lose out because of a few pesky allergies.

Good luck to you!



answers from New York on

This is a really difficult situation for a couple of reasons. I'll address what seems like the "easy part" first- NYC is not likely to treat your son't allergies as an educationally disabling condition. While his rights are protected under Section 504, those don't really kick-in until compulsary school age (Kindergarten or First grade depending on when you elect to enroll him).

Preschool isn't really about "academics"- honestly. It's about learning to function independently and as part of a group. I completely understand your hesitation and would feel the same way. Personally, I would enroll my child and offer to meet with the faculty and staff prior to starting and let them know what they should look for and be aware of. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised- if a school is willing to enroll him they have probably dealt with severe allergies before.

If you are really not comfortable with preschool until you have a better handle on the extent of the allergies, why not try a structured activity like gymnastics or a Kindermusic class. Your son will get to practice his social skills while also learning how to participate in a group (follow directions, ask questions appropriately and engage in adult-directed activities).

It's not exactly the same, but it would be a great start! Hopefully he would be able to go to preschool the year after. If not, keep reading to him at home, work on the "other stuff" at home and get him involved in some structured groups!



answers from New York on

Food allergies shouldn't stop you from enrolling your child in preschool - there are two issues at hand here. The food allergy issue and then whether or not he even needs preschool. My question is, would you be thinking twice if your child had no food allergies, I'm guessing you wouldn't, so my advice is to keep looking for a school that you are comfortable with. My son has a peanut allergy (he's 2.5) and there are kids in his class that have MANY other allergies like yours. My school accomodates this. I am shocked that you spoke to two school that would NOT adminsiter an epi pen. I consider that first aid training, so I'd be nervous about those school for other first aid reasons as well. Your situation is not uncommon, but YES, you do have to be the the most vigilant when it comes to your childs allergies - even now, I ralize this day in and day out that people who don't have to deal with it - JUST DON'T GET IT. One mom in my sons' class admitted during back to school night that she kept sending honey nut cheerios to school as a snack and the teacher and owner kept dealing with it and advising that they were not allowed she apologized and said, I had no idea they would be a problem, they aren't peanuts - they are other nuts - she just had NO connection. SO it IS an ongoing battle but you will have to stay on top of it and at the right school the staff will work with you!



answers from New York on

If you are that concerned about him touching a table
that might have something on it, my advice is to keep
him home under your control.

I doubt the DOE will provide aides for this sort of
problem. There seems to be way too many kids who have



answers from Syracuse on

I understand your concern but even when he attends elementary school in a couple of years-they will not be able to administor epipen unless rules are different from where you live. My mother raises my mentally handicapped nephew whom has seizures...and if he is in school when one starts they cannot give him his medicine in which usually takes him out of his seizure.She actually has to rush to the school wherever she is! I personally think it is absurd when you have a registered nurse in the school that cannot give a necessary medication.Anyhow this was just food for thought about maybe finding out ahead of time about your elementary school also for when he starts kindergarten.



answers from New York on

This is of topic a little, but I have read all the responses and am amazed by how many kids have multiple food allergies. When I was growing up I didnt know anyone with an allergy. Thinking out loud I wonder why this is happening so much. What are we (as a society)(Im not blaming parents) doing to our kids that makes them so prone to allergies?



answers from Utica on

Hi T.
My thought is they can't, they won't, and they don't. Unless of course you are a nurse and the hospital sets it up in the work place.
I am not a big advocate of preschool. I worked in preschools and they are great for very few children. Teaching them your values and showing them what you expect is my choice. In fact, after setting my girls up homeschooling them through preschool{we couldn't send 2), I continued to homeschool.
God bless you as you make decisions
K. -- SAHM married 39 years --- adult children -- 38, coach; 33, lawyer, married with son; and twins 19, in college after graduating from our homeschool. One is in fine arts, 3.8 GPA on campus; one is looking into journalism after graduating from local community college 3.7 GPA.



answers from Albany on

Our local Y has a no-peanut rule in the preschool (both my boys went/are going there). AND they will administer an EpiPen. The two with the severe allergy (this year)bring their own snack. At the beginning of the year, they publish a list of acceptable snacks for EVERYONE, and anyone who doesn't follow that has their snack thrown away and replaced with an acceptable one. My older son had a dairy/cheese allergy at the time, I told the teachers, and when someone brought in a snack that he couldn't have, they had a snack (teddy grahams) that he COULD have. Now, my older son understood what happened if he ate something he shouldn't, and was GREAT about not eating/touching what he should not.


answers from New York on

I can relate, my son is allergic to nuts, eggs, milk, peanut & a variety of animals. And I was SO worried about his allergies in school. To the point I considered home schooling, just to keep him safe.

But, in the end I decided pre-k was best for him. And I found a great private nursery school with two fantastic teachers. (it doesnt cost as much as your may think) And they take his allergies very seriously.

He has an epi-pen in his backpack AND in the classroom. Whenever they go outside, the teacher brings Joey's backpack with her. And I have popped in on more than one occasion to see the teacher wearing his backpack.

The beginning of the school year I make a batch of his cupcakes and freeze them in ziploc bags. They sit in the freezer, and when another student brings in an unknown snack, or has a birthday ... My son has cupcakes of his own, and he isnt left out.

We have taught him to always ask if something has peanuts in it (thats his biggest allergy) before he accepts anything. He also will ask if foods will make him itchy or sick. He even asks me that question when I give him something new. :)

Prek has a been a wonderful experience for him. He loves going. He has made a ton of friends. He knew his letters, colors, numbers, etc before going. Pre-k, for him, was more about being independent and social.

I have checked out other schools. And I did not feel confident in their ability to monitor the safety of my son when it comes to his allergies. The best thing to do is check out as many places as you can, and go with your instincts.

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