Food Allergy Awareness in a Special Education Classroom

A bowl of almonds with a glass and a bottle of milk

Did you know May is Allergy Awareness Month? How can you help your students learn more about food allergies and keep your students with allergies safe?

Beyond just differences in characteristics, your special education students may also have unique needs related to their physical health. Food allergies are one commonly occuring difference among neurodivergent folks.

Food allergies are a serious issue. For some children, even a tiny bit of the wrong food can cause a life-threatening reaction. That’s why keeping your students safe when it comes to food allergies is important.

But this can prove more difficult when your student are unable to manage their allergies independently.

What Are Food Allergies?

A woman sneezing into a tissue showing a common reaction of food allergy

Food allergies happen when your immune system reacts badly to certain foods or allergens. With classic food allergies, the body produces an antibody called IgE, which causes inflammation. This can cause allergy responses like runny nose, sneezing, coughing, rashes, and in some extreme cases, life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Another kind of food allergy doesn’t involve IgE but still makes you feel sick. It doesn’t give symptoms like a runny nose and watering eyes, but the body may develop pain and discomfort.

Food allergies are a serious business and can be really tricky to deal with.

Are Food Allergies and Neurodivergence Connected?

Food allergies and neurodivergence can overlap in various ways – with sensory sensitivities, difficulty expressing symptoms, co-occurring conditions, and immune system dysregulation.

Neurodivergent individuals, including many autistic people, may feel heightened sensory sensitivities that affect their allergic reactions to food.

Your students may also have trouble telling others about their symptoms. Or, they may feel uncomfortable if they have food allergies but don’t know how to communicate it effectively.

Additionally, neurodivergent students may have other health issues like gut issues, fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms that may be caused by unidentified food allergies or intolerances. 

However, keep in mind that not all neurodivergent people will have food-related issues, and not everyone with food allergies is neurodivergent.

There’s still a lot to learn to understand how food allergies and neurodivergence overlap!

How to Promote Food Allergy Awareness
and Keep Your Students Safe

a bowl of cottage cheese, three brown eggs, a jar of yogurt, and two pitchers of milk on a light wooden table

In the classroom, ensuring the safety of all students, especially those with food allergies and other health issues, needs preventive actions.

As a teacher, what can you do?

Learn about Food Allergies

Familiarize yourself and your paraprofessionals with common food allergies and their potential symptoms. This knowledge of food allergies will enable you and your staff to recognize signs of an allergic reaction right away.

You can have training sessions or workshops on food allergy awareness for your fellow teachers and staff.

Here’s an editable health training and set of logs that you can use!

The “Allergies 101” guide teaches you the basics about common allergies, anaphylaxis, mid allergies, and intolerances. It also includes a template for your student allergy log!

Understanding the severity of food allergies is important. Reactions like anaphylaxis require immediate intervention with medications like epinephrine. That’s why us teachers should know how to administer these medications.

Implement Safety Plans

Minimize the risk of allergic reactions in your classroom by having a food allergy safety plan. Here are some tips on how you can create one for your neurotypical or special ed classroom!

#1: Educate your staff and students.

Teach your staff and students how to spot allergic reactions and what to do if someone has one. 

You can provide training to your paras on recognizing allergic reactions, the importance of avoiding allergens, and emergency response procedures.

As for your students, you can post food allergy signs in the classroom to serve as constant reminders. Try these Food Allergy Posters that you can print to large size and hang in the classroom or around your school!

Additionally, you can integrate food allergy lessons in your curriculum. Use the topic as examples in your worksheet or problem solving activities.

#2: Find out who has food allergies

Identify which of your students have food allergies. Work closely with their parents or guardians to learn about their specific allergies, triggers, and emergency procedures.

This way, you and your staff can watch what your students eat, and you’re also aware of what to do in case an allergic reaction happens. This information can be included in each student’s individualized safety plan.

#3: Make an individualized plan

Each student with a food allergy should have an individualized safety plan in place. This plan outlines specific allergens, symptoms of a reaction, emergency contacts, and steps to take in case of an emergency.

Remember to review these plans regularly!


#4: Keep allergens away

Avoid allergen exposure by clearly labeling all food items brought into the classroom with ingredient lists and allergen information. This will help your students and staff identify allergens and avoid accidental exposure.

Moreover, you might want to make policies like “no-sharing of food” or ask your school administration to provide allergen-free meal options in the cafeteria.


#5: Maintain a class list

Lastly, maintaining a class list that notes your student’s allergies and other health issues can help you have a quick reference. This is particularly helpful during activities involving food or when there’s a substitute teacher.

That’s it! There are a lot more things you can do to make sure your students are safe from food allergy emergencies, but those listed above can be your big start.

Through collaboration with families, school administrators, and your staff, you can create a classroom where students are safe to learn and grow.

Exploring what to teach your transition students, and overwhelmed by the endless ideas?

Remember that your units of focus will depend on your students’ needs; you can build your own curriculum map for the year by using this guide in conjunction with your students’ IEP goals. 

Use the free Transition Roadmap Scope & Sequence here!