Jackie Nevard - Food Allergy Mum Interview Series May 15, 2017 10:14

Food Allergy Week May 14-20, 2017

Australian children have the highest recorded rate of food allergies in the world. One in 10 babies born in Australia today will develop a food allergy. As, Food Allergy Week coincides with Mother's Day this year we are highlighting the awesome work of Aussie Food Allergy mums and advocates. 

Australia has the unfortunate title of "Food Allergy Capital of the World". Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions quadrupled in the last 20 years, while alarmingly the number of allergy-related deaths in Australia is increasing by 10 per cent each year. 

Food Allergy Week, May 14-20 is an initiative of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to raise awareness of food allergies in Australia.

In our Food Allergy Mum Interview Series, we hope to promote understanding and insight in to the challenges of parenting a child with life threatening food allergies, along with the need for change to build an allergy aware allergy safe commUNITY!

Food Allergy Friend, Jackie Nevard

What are your child’s allergies? When did you find out?

Thai’s allergies are milk, egg, dust and cat, he also has VKC (Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis) an allergic eye disease. He was first diagnosed at 9 months with seven food allergies, although we knew something was wrong at around 8 weeks of age. Unfortunately, it took seven doctors and health workers before Thai was given a correct diagnosis.

What would be one of the most difficult aspects of daily living with food allergies?  Or one of the biggest challenges raising a child with food allergies?

As Thai has reached each developmental stage we have faced different challenges. When kids are little you teach them not to put food they find in their mouths and not to share food. For Thai, I think he is affected most by the social impact allergies have on him. He just wants to do and have what all his friends are doing or eating. Having a safe cake means he can participate, but he is still aware that this makes him different and he can’t be as carefree as his peers.

For me, the biggest challenge is school. Even with a school that has 26 kids with EpiPens, the first year was very hard. I don’t believe parents should have to battle to keep life-saving medicine in the classroom or justify why a 4-year-old shouldn’t carry a medical device. Why being excluded in the classroom is wrong and the list goes on. Every state should have guidelines for staff and schools to follow to avoid these daily battles. There should be allergy education in every school and childcare which is something I’m slowly changing with my Food Allergy Smart Program.

How important is the support of friends, family, and community? 

Support from the community is vital. In our community, many social occasions or celebrations, food is the focal point, which means kids with allergies can easily be excluded. It’s so easy to implement no food sharing, hand washing after eating, being allergy aware and providing non-food treats. When people actually stop and think how it would feel to be someone with a food allergy, they are often only too happy to help. Of course, not everyone gets it, I’ve always been a big believer that instead of running away from the problem or to pull the child out of the school/childcare if they don’t have good allergy management, it is far better to educate and change this for the better. If no one makes the change they want to see, nothing will improve and the next allergy family will only face the same battles and worse case, a child may be put in danger.

What would you like other people to know about caring for a child with food allergies? How can families who don’t live with food allergies be extra safe around your food allergic child?

It’s simple and so easy. In the work I do I teach all children to be Food Allergy Smart. We have 5 ways to help:

1 - Don’t share food with people that have allergies

2 - Don’t touch other people while eating

3 - Wash your hands after eating

4 - Tell an adult or teacher if your friend is having an allergic reaction

5 - Include your friends that have allergies

People shouldn’t underestimate number 5. So many kids are excluded from parties, play-dates, class celebrations and sleepovers. This has a big impact on a young child. I have also released a new book for parents, family and friends this year.

It’s important that if you are caring for a child with allergies whether you are a parent, grandparent or teacher, that you understand the basics, such as reading labels, the signs of an allergic reaction, cross-contamination and hidden allergens.

Do you have a proud mum moment (of your food allergic child?) that you would like to share?

There are so many proud moments but a few that come to mind would be, how Thai takes everything in his stride. Thai has undergone immunotherapy this year to dust. This has meant having 17 weekly injections, which he has also had reactions to.  We are now onto monthly injections and he has never complained once!

Another proud moment was when he realised that his EpiPen hadn’t come with him to a specialist lesson at school.  His relief teacher wouldn’t let him go back to the classroom for it. Thai knows how important it is to have his EpiPen nearby at all times. (his particular school is large with over 1000 students) He thought outside the box and asked another teacher aside that knew him if he could go back and get it. It would be confronting to challenge a teacher, he knows the importance of his EpiPen and will advocate for himself now. Since having his first anaphylaxis reaction to milk at age 7, he is excellent at self-management of his EpiPen.

What would be one piece of advice for parents who have a child with new food allergy diagnosis?

Don’t treat your child differently. Having food allergies mean we have to pre-plan everything but never let allergies define your child. Overcome problems together and give them the skills and confidence to manage their allergies as they grow.

How can we raise food allergy awareness in our communities?

We need to speak up and push for change if a policy is out of date or simply not the best way to do things. Teachers and educators are not experts at food allergies, by working together we can help teach them ways to keep our children safe. School is an ongoing process. Work with your teacher each year to ensure safe routines, inclusiveness and help them risk access planned activities out of the norm. Help share the Food Allergy Smart program, let your childcare or school know that we have resources and allergy sessions especially created to educate young children about food allergies.

Thanks for being an amazing, hardworking food allergy awareness advocate, and an inspiration. What inspires you?

Thank you for sharing the work I do Kylie, my little man inspires me every day and of course all the amazing food allergy friends I meet at my events.  Knowing that by educating ALL children I can make the world a safer place for children with allergies.  Food allergies are serious but learning about them can be fun!

Jackie Nevard is a hardworking food allergy awareness advocate, mum of two and author of the children's educational series My Food Allergy Friends. She runs her popular allergy awareness educational sessions aimed at all children, across Australia and New Zealand. Navigating the challenges we all face being a food allergy parent Jackie has turned this to her advantage and uses her real life experiences to help others.