Latex Allergy and Positive Living
By Nadine O'Reilly, M.A., C.S.P.
Learning to Live Positively with a Latex Allergy
Your child has a latex allergy: Perhaps a mild allergy; perhaps a life-threatening one. Either way, you now have to help your child live with it. Of course, to do so, you need to be able to live with it. You've done all the research. You know to avoid balloons and bananas. You've latex-proofed your house. Have you grieved?
While it might seem selfish, knowing that your child can never go near latex, is the death of a dream for you-the dream of your child living a safe, problem-free life. You have the right to grieve for his or her loss. Grieve over the fact that your child can never blithely go to a birthday party because balloons are integral parts of that experience.
So what should you do after you finish grieving over your child's latex allergies? That one is simple. Get mad.
"It won't do any good," you say. No, it won't change your children's latex allergies, but you'll probably feel better once you're done being angry. Just like grieving, this should only last a few days. Go ahead and be mad that your child is "different". Rant in private that it's not fair that your child has to worry about things other children don't. Maybe throw a few (soft) things because you're upset that you have to explain over and over and OVER to people that latex allergies are real and deadly, and because you're tired of repeating the list of foods your child must avoid in addition to rubber bands.
When you've allowed yourself to go through the mad stage, it's time for acceptance. It should be a bit easier now to accept that your life will be as fully affected as your child's life. Now you and your family can learn to help your child cope with this life-altering allergy.
How do you deal with the fact that your child isn't invited to a fast food restaurant for a birthday party because all the kids will be in the ball pen-the balls are rubber, and your child can't participate. Explaining to your child that he or she is being left out for their own safety is heartbreaking for both of you.
Children with latex allergies react to the changes and limitations in their lives in different ways. Some just accept it and move on. Others may accept it while they are young, then lash out at the world when they are older and more fully comprehend their limits. If your child struggles with the emotional pain caused by their allergy, you may need to guide them through the stages of grief, anger and acceptance. Children will often stuff their frustrations deep inside because they are trying to be "good", so you may have to talk with your child and give him or her permission to express sadness or anger at the difficulty this allergy brings with it.
A great way to help a child with latex allergies cope is to involve them in protecting themselves and other children with the same problem. You're probably becoming a bit of an activist already, possibly fighting a school board to make sure that your child's class (and preferably the entire school) is latex-free, or asking toy shops to have lists of latex-free toys on hand. Let your child get involved too. Bring them along when you go before the school board and let them speak about their own need for safety and how latex affects them. Involving your child helps them feel like they are taking back some of the control over their life that their allergy took away.
When your child stands up for him or herself, they are standing up for every child suffering latex allergies, or anything else that makes them different. Speaking out about their problem not only helps your child cope, but makes a positive contribution to the community. And with as fast as latex allergies are growing, especially among adults in the healthcare field, awareness of the problem needs to increase quickly.
It seems like an uphill battle to educate other people about the danger of latex allergies. There will always be another parent to explain things to, another toy shop to educate, another battle to fight. But the effort is far from useless. You and your child will connect with people. You will both make a difference, because even tiny victories help make the world a safer place. Most importantly, you are teaching your child to be pro-active and not let their allergy rule their heart and soul.
Latex allergies will create daily wear and tear on you and your loved ones. It's important to make sure you don't let yourself get run down. Take care of yourself so you can withstand the coming years of helping your child maneuver through the dangers of a latex-filled world.
Reach out to others in a similar situation. Perhaps you won't find anyone else locally who is dealing with latex allergies, but they are on the rise, as are wheat and peanut allergies. Why not band together and pool your energy as well as your resources? Talking to others who have been there and done that will help both you and your child. If for no other reason, when they say that they understand they truly do.
Finally, though being pro-active in spreading the word about latex allergies and encouraging change to a safer environment is good, don't let your life or your child's life become consumed by their allergy. It's very important to spend time doing things and discussing subjects that have nothing to do with latex. Planning activities that are safe may take a bit of advance work, but it will be worth it when your child is able to completely relax and just be a kid like everyone else.
About The Author
Nadine O'Reilly, M.A. is a NJ school psychologist and Coordinator of Special Services. She creates 100's of accommodation plans for disabled children each year.