The Truth About Invisible Disabilities… and why I consider food allergies one of them

Invisible…

Disability is such a loaded word, these days.  It seems that anyone who need any kind of accommodation these days has a disability.  We live in a fortunate time, however.  People with diagnoses have laws in place, provided so that the playing field might be leveled, so that they won’t have to go through life struggling just to have the same right to exist as those without diagnoses.  But there is something about the invisible disability that most don’t understand.  They don’t understand because it’s hard to pin point what it is.  And this can be difficult.

Autism, ADHD, ODD, and Bi-Polar disorder are among the many “disabilities” that can present themselves without presenting a specific look.  To most, these individuals look “normal,”  they don’t look like there’s anything “wrong with them” (I’ll get into these generalizations in a later post)  But there is an entire population of those with diagnoses whom we seem to ignore all together.  Those with conditions that limit their ability to live a normal life without some kind of accommodation.

So What Even Are Allergies?

Allergies seem like a normal enough condition because so much of our first world society is affected them.  Allergies are presented when the body overreacts to some kind of stimulus it cannot handle (ie: dust, pollen).  But we are seeing something today that most generations haven’t witnessed when they are young.  There is a war raging against the small, yet mighty peanut, the powerful egg, the versatile wheat grain, and the docile milk.  These are the most common allergens that food products must list has either including or possibly have probably come in some sort of contact with.  Reactions from consuming or even being around these products can range from a mild rash on the skin to the more severe anaphilaxsis.  To most of us raised in the 80s and 90s, the idea of being allergic to these products is crazy; peanut butter and jelly was a way of life, a right of passage that most kids went through by mid-elementary school age.  We all enjoyed our fair share of pizza and milkshakes, grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons while downing three bowls of cereal, and enjoyed celebrating our birthdays in school while sharing yummy cupcakes with our classmates.  And if you’re being honest, you probably didn’t know very many kids with food allergies growing up.  And if they had them, more than likely it wasn’t well known because food allergies weren’t as accommodated for back then as they are now.

Now don’t get me wrong. 

I miss the days when a PB and J was suffice to satisfy any picky eater at lunch time.  In our day, lunches were easy to make for even the pickiest of eaters, for most of them would cheerfully eat a PB and J.  However, as a parent raising kids today, it is frustrating having to find other means of feeding my children as peanuts are banned from their school.  Most schools are on their way to being completely nut-free.  And as a mother of children who are often hard to satisfy with their lunches, it has been a challenge trying to find a reasonable substitute.  It can be easy to criticize these policies simply because it provides an inconvenience.  You think back to when you were a kid and no one was allergic to anything and feel like all these allergies are a result of people’s paranoid idea of striving to make everything healthy.  I know because that thought as crossed my mind from time to time.  But how can I be against something that is part of my entire mission to provide education, encouragement, and empowerment to parents and caregivers of children with diagnoses.  I expect my children’s school to provide accommodations for my children with documented learning differences and behavioral challenges.  So how can I then be against food allergies.  They are, after all, an invisible disability.

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Are Allergies on the Rise?

The idea that allergies have become more common really can’t ignored.  Or at least it’s seemingly become more common.  It cannot be certain if this is because of a growing awareness for accommodations versus an actual growth in the prevalence of food allergies.  It is estimated that about 4 million children suffer from food allergies, most of whom are probably going to outgrow them by adulthood.  It can be said that the growth of allergies can be attributed to the fact that as a first world nation, we are obsessed with disinfecting everything.  We are too clean.  Some might also argue that the attention given to the rise in food allergy cases may come from the same trend that sees to see gluten-free and organic food become the new norm.

Either way, it is not right or safe to continue to view food allergies, and those who suffer from them, as an inconvenience or as something to be frustrated with.  Sure it can be a hassle to have to figure out your kid’s lunch when they won’t eat anything, and it might cause you to roll your eyes when you think of how much our society has changed with what people will and can eat.  Changes are always tricky and it’s so easy to relive the good old days when something new comes about.  But allergies are a real thing.  The truth is that they affect a lot of folks, some more severely than others.  The truth is that they are an invisible disability, a special need that deserves the same kind of attention and respect as has been given to Autism in recent years.  Besides I know the strain it must put on parents to try to change their entire lifestyles, to have a well-laid out plan of what to buy at the grocery store, carefully reading the ingredients of everything they put into their cart, to avoid visiting popular restaurants because of the possibility of contamination.  As with any family with a child or children living with a disability, learning difference, or a special need, everyone in the house is affected and must find a way to adapt to those differences.

Our world is one where change is one of the only constants in life, the others being death and taxes.  It’s awesome to think about the good old days, to revel in the memories of having pizza parties for Halloween at school, and looking forward to trick or treating with friends, getting to exchange all the candies afterwards.  But times have changed, and we must be more aware and careful of the foods we consume and bring into an environment.  Let’s work together, and be compassionate to provide a more inclusive world for everyone!

Even if it means that our kids have to struggle their way through sun-butter everyday.

12 thoughts on “The Truth About Invisible Disabilities… and why I consider food allergies one of them

  1. My child preschool didn’t allow peanut products. At first I was frustrated, but then realized how important it was to have these restrictions for young age groups who could accidentally ingest something harmful to them.

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    1. Hi Dikeesha! Thanks for your comment. I agree. I would expect that my child with ADHD has her accomodations that make up for her behaviors in class, so why shouldn’t her friend with an egg allergy not be afforded the same care?

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  2. I enjoyed reading this article, and your point was well taken. I also think the increases in people affected with allergies relate to pollution, pesticides, and more.

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    1. Yes! This is not allergies per say but I remember doing a paper on asthma my senior year of high school and learned from that research that asthma is more prevalent in 1st world countries as we typically use disinfectants, cleansers, and are used to air conditioning more than those who live in third world countries. They have been afforded opportunities to boost their immune system, so their exposure to different allergens on a more regular basis could be seen as to why we don’t really hear about food allergies in poorer countries.

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  3. Thank you for talking about this as I don’t think it is talked about enough. I worked at a daycare about four years ago and I was floored at how many kids had food allergies. I’m a 90s baby, so as you stated, I literally had not 1 friend that had a food allergy. But my, how things have changed. Great post!

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    1. Hey Brittany! Thanks for your comment! I also worked in early childhood education and we had to provide food substitutions for those kids with food allergies or sensitivites. There was a form parents had to fill out and get signed by a physician to do so but once it was, it was up to us to provide a substitution for that child. And the number of subs for one meal were always so many!

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  4. What a great article! I always joke with my best friend (who’s allergic to seafood, fresh fruit, tree nuts, etc) about how she’s allergic to everything. But, the truth of the matter is, it’s a very serious thing. Back when we were teenagers, she had to take a trip to the ER just because she had been in the vicinity of some frozen shrimp. Food allergies are not to be taken lightly.

    iamdanismith.com

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    1. Hi Dani! Thank you for your comment and I appreciate you reading! It’s interesting that some people who had allergies as kids still have them as adults. I couldn’t imagine not being able to eat fresh fruit! I’m glad she’s doing okay though.

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