Our eldest daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease over 5 years ago. If you’re not familiar with Celiac, it’s an auto immune disease in which “the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins present in wheat, rye and barley and their cross bred grains. The damage to the intestine can lead to a variety of symptoms and result in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health” (Canadian Celiac Association).
When our daughter started Kindergarten, I have to admit I wasn’t totally prepared for how challenging it could be. I spoke to the teacher at the beginning of the year, and she was extremely supportive and kind. But there were things that I didn’t think to mention, that cropped up through the year! The following year, when our daughter started Grade 1, I felt much more prepared. I wrote a letter to the teacher, and gave her a few extra copies to distribute to the lunch monitor, other teachers, and to leave on file for substitute teachers. I gave it to the teacher on the first day of school, and she was very appreciative for all of the detail and information.
There are many sample letters available online. I used these to create my own letter, so that it contained the details I wanted it to, and was written in my “voice”. Here are some great sample letters to help you get started:
- Resources from the Canadian Celiac Association (vía the Celiac Scene)
- What to tell the teacher about your gluten free child by the Celiac Scene
- Keeping Celiac kids gluten free at school by Celiac Family
- School resources by the Celiac Kids Connection (Boston Children’s Hospital)
These are some of the key things I decided to include in my letter:
Background on Celiac: I included a paragraph from the Celiac Association on Celiac disease – what it is, how it affects the body, etc. I also described the specific symptoms that our daughter experiences when she accidentally ingests gluten.
Treats: I asked the teacher whether it would be possible for me to bring in some Gluten Free treats, and store them at school. That way, if classmates were to bring in treats to celebrate birthdays and so on, our daughter could be given one of her GF treats so that she could celebrate with everyone.
Class activities: If the class is doing an activity that involves gluten (playdough, gingerbread houses, dried pasta, paper mache, finger paints, etc.), I asked if the teacher could please contact me. I told her that I am always happy to bring in a similar GF item so that our daughter can participate safely.
Lunch/Snack time: I explained that our daughter will need to keep her eating space free of gluten. We pack her lunch in a bento box that she can eat out of directly, so that her food will not come in contact with any gluten crumbs on the table/from a classmate sitting with her. We teach her to wash her hands carefully before she eats so that she does not have any gluten on her hands. She is very good about this, but I mentioned that she may require a little bit of monitoring.
Accidental contact with gluten: If our daughter accidentally comes into contact with gluten at school, I asked that the teacher have her please wash her hands or other contact areas thoroughly with soap.
I have to admit, I am still learning when it comes to Celiac – and I feel like I always will be. But starting the school year off with this letter to the teacher/staff has really helped. If you have any suggestions of other things you include in your letter, I would love to hear them!
For more of my posts on Celiac, feel free to check out these:
- Stuffing my Pockets with Gluten Free Treats: What it means to support your Celiac child
- Going off Gluten: Resources to help the transition with children