Your Allergic Checklist for College

Your Allergic Checklist for College

Congrats! Your beloved child has donned the cap and gown and walked across the stage at high school graduation. Diploma firmly in hand, your kid may now be amassing a large collection of odds and ends as they ready to move into a college dorm just a few short months from now. It’s a time of mixed emotions for any parent, but for a parent of a child with food allergies, there are a few extra considerations. If that sounds like you, keep reading. 

The Paperwork Continues

You’re familiar with the stack of paperwork a K-12 student with food allergies can generate. There’s the allergy action plan, the waivers to keep medication on campus, the official 504 plan with its list of accommodations, and an assortment of other material that you may or may not be coordinating between your allergist and your child’s school. Some of that is done. And some of it is going to come back in the form of paperwork the college needs in order to extend your student the accommodations he needs as he starts his college career. 

The biggest change, of course, will be that your child is now 18 (or almost 18) and will need to take the lead in juggling his medical accommodations himself. You can help guide and advise, but the school is likely going to want to dialogue with him. (Actually, while we’re on the subject, HIPAA laws also mean the allergist you’ve developed a good working relationship with is going to need your child to sign a HIPAA waiver in order for her to keep sharing information for you, too.) 

Get Clear on Cooking

Your allergic student will begin her conversations about accommodations with the school’s disability services office. She may also need to engage the folks responsible for residential life – from housing accommodations to meal plans. 

Be clear about what small cooking appliances are permitted in a dorm setting. It may seem like a great idea to show up with an air fryer, but that doesn’t mean an air fryer is an approved appliance in a residence hall. 

Once you know what your student can bring, figure out what makes sense for her and start to build your collection. Encourage your student to have a conversation with her roommate(s) ahead of time about which approved appliances can be used by everyone in the room and which ones will be designated as “mine only for allergy safety reasons.” 

Think outside the box, too. Maybe you can’t have more than a microwave and a Keurig in the room itself, but your student can use the kitchenette at the end of the hallway to prep slightly bigger options. Would it be helpful to have his own saucepan and skillet to use in the public space to be sure the pots and pans he’s prepping his meal in are cleaned appropriately when he needs them? Should he have his own dedicated stash of plastic plates and utensils? 

Stock a First Aid Kit

In truth, a good stash of first aid items and a collection of general over-the-counter medication is often the last thing on a lot of families' minds when they get their first student ready for college. However, the first autumn cold you catch, the first nasty paper cut, or the first time a dish in the cafeteria gives you indigestion, you’ll realize how helpful it would have been to have the basics already in hand. 

When you’re building out your kit, don’t overlook things to help you manage your allergies. Talk to your allergist about what makes sense to include. Clearly your student should have a current set of auto-injectors on hand with them at all times. Should they also keep a stash of OTC antihistamines in their kit? Would it be wise to have hydrocortisone in their kit to help with reactions to skin contact with an allergen? Should they have a second set of auto-injectors on hand in their emergency kit just in case? What else should be there? Talk to your doctor and then stock your kit with it. 

Roleplay Conversations

Your student is going to meet a lot of new people. From classmates to roommates to college staff and faculty, the on-campus sets of new faces are just the first round of folks. There may also be a new set of doctors. New favorite coffee shop, and a whole lot of other individuals he’ll be encountering for the first time. 

Perhaps you’ve already been working on handing over the reins of communicating allergic needs to your child as he’s made his way through middle school and high school. Maybe he’s already got experience helping others understand his food allergies. However, if this is new or if there’s a little bit of nervousness about moving away from home for the first time, offer to walk through some scenarios and role play the way the conversation might go. 

The best way to clearly communicate your needs is to be prepared to convey them fully. Practicing conversations ahead of time can help prepare your child to take these on successfully.

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