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Special Needs: How to Serve Children With Allergies

Special Needs: 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 with special needs 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 or be aware of 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 (walnuts and cashews), peanuts, soy, tomatoes, and wheat products. Check out Web sites such as to keep up-to-date.

Ask parents if their child has any known allergies you need to be aware of, and 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 their child has. 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 special place of ministry and servanthood for all the children-with or without special needs.

[Q]: I’m a second-grade Sunday school teacher, and I have a little girl whose older sister displays many autistic tendencies. The older sister functions better in my classroom, but the two sisters become a behavior problem when they’re together. What can I do?

[A]: First talk to the parents to find out why there’s a behavior problem. Is this problem just in this particular setting? Is the younger sister not dealing with her sister’s disability? Is she embarrassed by her sister? Does the older sister realize she’s in a younger classroom? Then two options would be to see if there’s another classroom the older child can go to or ask for a volunteer to work with her in her grade-level classroom.

Recommended Resource: Special Foods for Special Kids: Practical Solutions & 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.” Robert D. Reed Publishers;

Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

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