Parenting a teen with a food allergy can be stressful and planning to send your teen off to college can increase one’s anxiety. When your teen enters college, the ‘rules’ will change. There is a major shift in responsibilities when a teen transitions from high school to college. In college, the student is the primary advocate. So, as she enters adulthood, your teen must advocate for herself. Below are strategies to help you prepare your teen for this self-advocacy role as she starts to explore options for higher education.
Research. Help your teen research colleges that best match her interests, academic abilities, personal, social, and financial needs. Encourage her to explore her own interests, determine the qualities that will make a college a right match and prioritize what is important to her in choosing a college (e.g., strong academics, cost/availability of financial aid, food allergy accommodations, etc.). Remind her that she is so much more than her food allergies. With over 4000 colleges and universities in the U.S., the job of researching and developing a solid list of colleges can be overwhelming however taking the time to prioritize what is important will help your teen narrow down a potential college list.
Explore. While researching colleges, encourage your teen to explore all aspects of the college or university. This includes not only becoming familiar with dining and food service options but becoming familiar with disability services, health services, residence life (e.g., housing), and counseling services. She should keep track of which colleges provide reasonable accommodations and know who the ‘go to’ people are in each service area. Unlike high school where your teen may have interacted with only one or two offices such as counseling or the school nurse, college services are decentralized and will vary widely from one college to the next. So, while exploring college campuses, ask your teen to contact an adviser to discuss the services offered for students with special dietary needs.
Advocate. Learning the art of requesting accommodations and advocating for themselves is an important skill for food-allergic teens to master. In college, your teen must identify that she has a disability that requires accommodations. So, prior to stepping foot on campus, your teen will need to be able to articulate her needs both in written and verbal form. It is important to note that while your teen is not required to tell the college before being admitted about her food allergy, it does not hurt to plan ahead. Your teen must understand the process and expect to navigate it on her own.
Develop a plan. During the beginning stage of the college search process, help your teen prepare a plan and role play various scenarios to help her prepare for situations that she may encounter in advance. Also, both you and your teen must understand the legal landscape in higher education as it relates to your student’s rights and responsibilities. Once in college, your teen must self-advocate. If she chooses to disclose her food allergies after she has been accepted, she will need to communicate with the appropriate college officials in order to receive the necessary accommodations. Finding the right match means to find a place where your teen will thrive and where her academic abilities and social interests match what a college or university has to offer. For a teen with food allergies, the right college is also one that is able to accommodate her special needs in a supportive, allergy-aware environment. Your teen will not only find the right college but with your guidance as an advocate role model, she will have the self-advocacy skills that will assist her in achieving academic and social success.