FeaturesDec/Jan 2013 Issue

Food-Allergy Bullying

Here's how to protect your child from harassment related to food allergies.

Photo © BananaStock/Thinkstock

For little Thomas, 2nd grade should have been the year of learning about dinosaurs, outer space and multiplication. Instead, 2nd grade quickly turned into a year of horrors. Two boys bullied the happy, blonde boy who loves baseball, swimming and football—repeatedly kicking him, punching him and calling him names. The teacher was on medical leave for the entire year, so a series of long-term subs came in and out of his Virginia classroom.

A few months into the year, any sense of classroom control was long gone, as was any adherence to Thomas’ Individualized Healthcare Plan (IHP) set up because of his multiple food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, wheat and milk. His mother, Eleanor Garrow, vice president of education and outreach at the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), asked for her son to be transferred to another class but she was consistently denied. The bullying got worse.

“They would hit him and call him names,” Garrow says. “They also bullied him because of his food allergies, where they chased him on the playground with pebble rocks and said they were peanuts and were going to smear them all over his face. They took his medicine bag from him, because he carries his own epinephrine auto-injector, and has since kindergarten. They took his lunch bag from him, even though that’s the only food he can eat.”

In March, an intolerable situation turned even more dangerous. One of the bullies took peanut butter and smeared it on Thomas’ neck in the lunchroom, thinking it was funny. Knowing that one bite of peanut butter could kill him, Thomas sprang into action.

Garrow recalls: “He said, ‘Mommy, Mommy, I’m so proud of myself. I ran to the bathroom and washed my neck off with soap and water with a paper towel, so I didn’t actually touch it. Then I washed my hands with soap and water, so I didn’t have anything on my hands.’

“I said, ‘Honey, I’m so proud of you, but you should never have had to do that,’” Garrow says. “Why did my son go to the bathroom alone? Why wasn’t he monitored? What if something had happened to him, where he accidentally swiped his lips, ingested some peanut butter and then developed anaphylaxis?”

Next: Risks of Bullying

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