My 13-year-old daughter came home from school recently in tears because of an incident at lunch. Someone at her table accidentally swiped some food, which hit my daughter and crumbled all over her. The classmate didn’t acknowledge the mishap, nor was there an apology.
This would be no big deal for most people, but for my daughter, it felt like being hit with poison. Because in effect, that’s what it was. She and her younger brother both have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself every time gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) is consumed. Left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as other autoimmune diseases, cancer and infertility.
When she was in preschool, we read a children’s book about celiac to the class each year. We did the same in kindergarten. For the next several years, classmates found out by default. But in middle school, a new group is added to the mix. And somewhere along the line, the effort to educate is lost. Even friends she’s had for years don’t always get it. They think she’s being overly paranoid when she sees crumbs near her lunch, but if she ingests even one, she can get sick.
Granted, celiac isn’t as immediately life threatening as a nut allergy. But perhaps it would be worthwhile to add sensitivity training to health class. This can cover allergies, disabilities and conditions like celiac disease.
Teenagers are usually pretty self-centered. It wouldn’t hurt to show them there are more ways to be sensitive than liking posts on social media.