The transition from high school student to college student is a big one for both the student and their parents. College means a brand new era of independence, especially for students living on campus. For allergic students, like every other milestone, safely managing allergies in the process of these changes adds another layer of considerations to navigate. The good news is that a little bit of planning can go a long way.
Talk It Out
Meeting with school staff to hammer out accommodations isn’t just a thing you do in grades K-12. The difference, of course, is that your student is now a legal adult and will have to take the lead in these conversations. Talk it over with your student ahead of time and, as always, loop the allergist into the conversation.
As a team, create a list of reasonable accommodations your student will need to be safe at school. Roleplay the conversations if it helps your student prepare and relax. Participate in the meetings that you are able to. Your student will want to reach out and connect with disability services, housing, and dining services ahead of the start of the first semester.
Brief the Roommate
Sharing space with another person may be a brand new experience for first year college students. There’s a whole new level of diplomacy to be mastered when you adapt to dorm life for the first time. With food allergies, there’s additional compromises that may need to be made.
Your student should talk to their allergist to identify specific requirements for their living space. Do they need the room to be completely free of allergens? Do they need a dedicated set of dishes and utensils? Should eating in the room be limited to certain areas of the shared space? Those accommodations should be discussed and agreed upon with the roommate before move in day.
Loop in Their Squad
Likewise, your student should talk with their roommate, hall RA, residence hall neighbors, and other friends on campus about their food allergies. These individuals should be briefed on where to find your child’s auto-injector, how to spot a reaction, and how to respond to a reaction if needed.
Stock Up on Safe Stuff
College kids usually have a stash of snacks and quick microwavable meals for those times the dining hall just isn’t going to cut it. For allergic kids, having a go-to stash of safe, quick alternative meals is helpful. Having a stash of safe microwavable meals gives your student something to fall back on instead of having to hunt out a safe solution from DoorDash or the local convenience store.
Find the Locals
Help your student identify the nearest hospital, pharmacy, and an allergist that takes your insurance. You don’t want to be searching for these locations when you’re in the midst of an emergency. That’s not all, though. Help your child identify the local eateries that may be a safe option. Help them do the legwork of identifying a few options before move-in day.
When their new tribe of friends wants to celebrate the successful completion of midterms, having a few safe places to suggest off the top of their mind can be helpful. Just remind them that even armed with that info, they still need to let the waitstaff know about their allergies and ask smart questions before ordering.
Whether your student is going to live on campus, commute to college, or not go to college at all, this post-high school life stage changes the medical care conversation whether we want it to or not. Your child has probably already turned 18 – and if they haven’t, they will soon.
Legally, their healthcare providers can’t disclose information to you unless the proper HIPAA waivers have been completed with your name on them. The forms need to indicate the specific healthcare provider, so blanket forms may not be useful. However, as Collegiate Parent suggests, your student can complete a general form indicating the on-campus health center and then another form for the local hospital. These could be kept with their autoinjectors.
Talk About Alcohol
True, your first year student is probably not old enough to legally drink. It’s also true that this simple fact may not stop them drinking while at college. Don’t wait until your student is 21 to talk about what it looks like to drink with food allergies.
Help them identify beverages that may contain allergens. Remind them that alcohol doesn’t need to comply with the same food allergy labeling laws as pre-packaged foods. Make sure they understand that being under the influence of alcohol could make them more lax about reading labels or asking questions related to the food they eat and put them at a higher risk of a reaction. The goal isn’t to scare them from drinking. It’s to make them smarter about the choices they’ll be making.
Everyone is Adjusting
Take comfort in knowing that you’re not the only parent missing your newly minted college student – allergies or not. Everyone that dropped their kid off for orientation is worrying whether their son or daughter is eating enough, sleeping enough, studying enough…you get the idea. You’re in good company.
Yes, allergies give you another thing to worry about, but just like all the rest of the stuff, you’ll soon realize that you’ve done a great job at preparing your child for young adulthood and they’re thriving in their new world.