BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – As the month of August nears its conclusion, K-12 classrooms across East Baton Rouge (EBR) Parish are full and students are beginning to acclimate to the routines associated with the 2022-2023 school year.

But parents of young children with disabilities may find it challenging to help their kids adapt to the new routines. Parents might also have a tough time navigating the school system’s process of advocating for a child with disabilities.

This may especially be the case when a child has an invisible disability. The Invisible Disabilities Association touches on this by saying, “Unfortunately, people often judge others by what they see and conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look.”

For example, a child with celiac disease may look quite healthy, and some parents say requests for accommodations in behalf of such children have been met with denials and doubt.

So, what are some things parents can do to make sure their young student with celiac adapts to their new on-campus environment and receives the support they need from educators?

Teach your child to be diligent about sticking to a GF diet

After a doctor officially diagnoses your child with celiac disease by means of a blood test and perhaps a follow-up biopsy, one of the first things to do is sit down with your child and a healthcare professional (like a nutritionist or dietician) to have an open discussion about food options.

Advocate Children’s Hospital says, “If your child has celiac disease, the doctor will guide you on which foods your child can eat and which to avoid. These changes will have a big impact on your family’s everyday life and your child’s diet. So the doctor may suggest that you meet with a dietitian for advice.”

This step includes teaching children to avoid wheat, barley, rye, and related grains by carefully reading food labels before eating packaged items and staying away from foods like pasta, bread, cakes, or cookies (unless they’re labeled as Gluten Free).

It’s just as important to teach children to be on guard against cross contamination.

In this regard, the Children’s Hospital says, “Sometimes, gluten-free foods can come into contact with foods that contain gluten (called cross-contamination). For example, crumbs from regular wheat bread can find their way into jams, spreads, or condiments if people aren’t careful to use a fresh knife or utensil each time.”

Parents should also teach children with celiac that it isn’t a good idea to use their friend’s lotions or hair products because these items might contain wheat, barley, rye, or oats.

Though most doctors agree that applying gluten-containing products against the skin does not in itself cause a flare-up, when these sorts of products are used near the mouth, accidental ingestion can occur, which may trigger painful symptoms.

At the start of the school year, personally speak with your child’s teacher

Experts suggest approaching your child’s teacher as soon as possible and providing them with a list of foods/ingredients that your child must avoid as well as literature about celiac disease. This kind of literature can be found on the Celiac Disease Foundation’s Website.

Some of the discussion points you might want to bring up with the teacher include:

  • Asking the teacher to pass this information and any related literature you’ve provided on to any classroom teaching assistants or substitute teachers
  • Discussing the need for bathroom privileges as a part of celiac management
  • Giving the teacher a box of ‘just in case’ GF candies and cookies so your child can have a treat if a special occasion arises and other kids in the class are provided with desserts/candy that contains gluten

Complete and turn in forms associated with a ‘504 Plan’

Celiac is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this designation was assigned to ensure that educational institutions, from pre-school to college, provide appropriate accommodations for children with celiac.

To advocate for your child’s needs, you may choose to ensure that they have a 504 Plan, which is the federally recognized method of detailing any and all accommodations that need to be made by the school to assure that a child with a disability receives an appropriate education.

EBR Schools adheres to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and has two related forms for parents to complete, which can be accessed here.

For guidance in knowing where and how to turn in completed forms, it may be helpful to contact the EBR 504 Coordinator at (225) 226-4745.

Join a support group

If you come across any challenging situations throughout the school year or occasionally need an empathetic person to vent to, it can be helpful to join a support group.

These groups can be found online on Facebook Groups by searching ‘Celiac Support Groups’ or on websites like Raising Our Celiac Kids (ROCK).

As you and your child make your way through the 2022-2023 school year, you’ll undoubtedly learn a wealth of valuable information about how to succeed with celiac. Though challenging at times, this experience is sure to empower both you and your young student.