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A girl with allergies stares at her small group leader.
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Special Needs: How to Serve Children With Allergies

Allergies are likely the most common special needs problem teachers face in the classroom. Here are things you need to know to serve children with allergies in your ministry.

Twenty percent of Americans are affected by some sort of allergies, and 8 percent of children under age 6 have food intolerances or allergies.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an overreaction of the body to an irritating substance (allergen) in food, the air, medication, or insect stings and bites. Some children have a latex allergy that’s specific to certain syndromes or disorders.

What does an allergy look like?

Some of the symptoms of an allergy include a runny nose, sneezing, runny eyes, wheezing, interference with breathing, a swollen face, and/or itchiness (hives/red blotches/eczema). Symptoms may appear very quickly upon exposure to the allergen. A reaction to an allergen can be severe (anaphylaxis) and require immediate medical attention. An anaphylactic reaction shows symptoms of a tingling or warm sensation, hives, wheezing or difficulty breathing, or vomiting.

What are practical ways to help a child with allergies?

Some things you can do to help a child with allergy-related special needs:

  • Be aware of latex products (balloons, rubber bands, bandages, latex paints, latex gloves, pacifiers, and bottle nipples) that children could be allergic to.
  • Keep up-to-date on common food allergies such as eggs, milk, chocolate, shellfish, fruits, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, tomatoes, and wheat products. Check out websites such as to keep up-to-date.
  • Ask parents if their child has any known allergies you need to be aware of. Then have a quick, easy-to-use form to make appropriate notes.
  • Be aware of the nature of the allergic reaction for the child and what you are to do, especially if the parents aren’t available.
  • Minimize a child’s exposure or triggers to known allergens. Evaluate your classroom for items that may cause an allergy problem for a particular child: chalk dust, dry clay, tempera paints, formaldehyde used in bookbinding/ plywood/particle board, classroom dust, dust mites, cockroaches, feathers, animal dander, mold, tree and plant pollen, and perfume.
  • Know what to do for an insect sting. If a child is allergic to insect stings, parents will normally carry the necessary medication to avoid anaphylactic shock.
  • Post the day’s snack outside your classroom door so parents can ask questions and warn you about any allergies. Before giving a snack, ask the class if anyone is allergic to the snack. Usually, children will say something to you before you even ask the question. This should be part of their responsibility to learn to say no.
  • Have the child’s parent bring in a special snack for the child if the child’s allergies are food-related. Treat each child as special and part of God’s plan. God has put you in a place of servanthood for all the children, with or without special needs.

Recommended Resource

 Special Foods for Special Kids: Practical Solutions and Great Recipes for Children With Food Allergies by Todd Adelman and Jodi Behrend is chock-full of information regarding allergies to dairy, gluten, and eggs. Plus, you’ll get over 100 kid-tested recipes for favorites such as smoothies, cookies, and vegetable “fun-do.”

Sally Castle is a retired professor emerita of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

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