Tessa Bantock was labelled “allergy girl” and even pelted with nuts by her classmates at school.
Growing up with a food allergy can be tough, but when children with serious allergies are bullied, the consequences are potentially life-threatening.
“I am severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts,” said Bantock. “You definitely feel different and segregated. I experienced everything from kids throwing nuts at me outside in the schoolyard to exclusion.”
Bantock often felt that the other children defined her by her allergies and she would sometimes have to eat in a separate room from them. Bantock is at risk of anaphylaxis if she comes in contact with allergens; symptoms may range from redness and swelling to cardiac arrest.
“I attended a private school and they did ban peanuts and nuts from the school, which was great of them,” said the Simon Fraser University philosophy major, now 21.
“I had boys say things like ‘I just ate a peanut butter sandwich, let’s go make out,’” she recounted.
One student was even suspended for bringing an open jar of peanut butter into her classroom for a food drive. But the other students blamed Bantock and started a Facebook hate page aimed at her that swelled to 200 members.
“I remember feeling so alone,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that even though I didn’t do anything, the situation spiralled so out of control.”
Bantock had hoped to leave the stigma of her allergies behind when she started university only to have a cruel message sent out on Twitter by a girl who recognized her and claimed she wanted to see her have an allergic reaction.
Bantock and a group of young adults from across Canada are speaking out this week about food allergy bullying as part of a national campaign called Allerject, sponsored by the consumer health care firm Sanofi Canada.
Research has shown that children with food allergies are twice as likely to be bullied as non-allergic children and that some are targeted for carrying an ephedrine auto-injector.
“I’m not a huge fan of banning foods from schools because there are so many kids out there who have allergies, it’s an extremely difficult thing to ban all allergens from schools,” she said. “I would love schools to tackle this through education.”
Teachers and students may not fully understand the repercussions of anaphylaxis, she said.
“If you have anaphylaxis to something it’s potentially life-threatening, whether it is from eggs, milk, wheat, nuts or even mustard,” she explained. “Even small particles can be a problem.”
• Children should be encouraged to immediately report bullying to a trusted adult, such as a teacher.
• Make your child’s lunch appear similar to other children’s lunches to avoid drawing attention.
• Ask about the school’s anti-bullying policy and how teachers and principals can apply prevention programs.
• Encourage your child to use the buddy system, walking to and from school and spending breaks with a trusted friend.