The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

School food and allergy management

Like many children, Fintan, four, has his allergies - foods to which he responds negatively, in varying degrees. Prime among these allergenic foods are, unfortunately, cow's milk, soy and wheat. These are common foods found in a surprising range of products.

We told his school about the situation before he started there. As is the way of institutions promises were made, and assurances given - but were they kept? Has his school behaved responsibly on the issue of Fintan's allergies?

Well, any reasonable institution that respected the wishes of the parents and guarded the health of its charges would, of course, have done everything to ensure that Fintan was not exposed to the allergens that he has been shown to respond to. That, however, has not been our experience.

As regular readers will know, he came home from school one day, speaking of the "bread with sugar on it" and french fries that he had been given to eat. Now apart from being absolute junk food, the first of the two items is made of one of his prime allergens: wheat. This is not very reassuring.

Last week, he spoke of having eaten: "Hot dogs and cheese." Here we go again: dairy and wheat - plus a dollop of junk food.

I duly rang his school to complain about the food. What transpired was very interesting for what it said about the values of the Principal. She denied everything. She said that no such food had ever been served him. She said they were aware of his allergies.

I listened to this nonsense until she had quite finished and I then pointed out that the first occasion had been confirmed in person by one of her teachers.

She responded with a watchful silence.

I also pointed out that Fintan knows what particular foods are - and he doesn't lie. If he said that he had been given certain foods to eat, then sure enough he had.

She conceded this point with a grunt, finally admitting, in this reluctant way, the truth of what I had been told.

I then asked if he could be given fruit instead of nonsense.

She said: "We do have fruit."

Interesting, then, that Fintan has never mentioned it - and all he has ever mentioned is utter junk.

"Could we send him in with a packed lunch, then?" I asked, finally, seeking the only solution that would reassure me that all was well with his food intake.

"We don't have that policy.", she refused, firmly.

I see. It is not considered good policy to allow one's charges to be fed real food - and food free of allergens to which they respond.

Imagine. Just imagine, that this school was in charge of a child with a peanut allergy, (and, therefore subject to anaphylactic shock and risk of death). How would they explain to the parents that, through ignoring the wishes of the parents, on the issue of food, that their child had been killed by the food fed them, so carelessly?

Luckily for us, Fintan's reactions are generally restricted to rashes - but still, the principle applies: the parent's wishes regarding food for their child should NEVER be ignored. A parent would not trouble themselves to inform a school of something unless it were so.

I feel that this school doesn't take our request seriously. Well, they should. Persistent exposure to the allergen often worsens the response to it. The child gets sicker and sicker at each exposure. Basically, the school, in ignoring our wishes, is endangering Fintan's health.

In a more litigious society, like the US, I suppose that a school like Fintan's would soon be put out of business through being sued. That is not the way, here, however - partly because litigation is just so expensive.

The Principal, having been caught out in her untruth, has promised that Fintan's food will be watched carefully in future. I have no great confidence that this will be so, given their past performance.

In such a situation, there is only one option remaining: if the school continues to behave irresponsibly, move him elsewhere.

I confess we have thought about it, in response to their behaviour. The only issue that holds us back is that Fintan is settled there and has built up some friendships. It would be sad for him to move on, therefore.

We shall watch and wait.

(If you would like to read more of Fintan, four years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, left-handedness, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:38 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valentine, I posted once before on the food allergy issue--my daughter is anaphylactic to peanuts and my son has a severe allergy to egg. I have found that most people who work in schools are uninformed on the subject of food allergies assuming them to be some kind "preferences" or parental quirks. You may get better results if you take Fintan to an allegist and have the doctor write a letter to the school explaining that Fintan is not to eat certain foods "under doctor's orders".

There is also the possibility (as you pointed out) of the allergy becoming worse unexpectedly. Sometimes what seemed to be a "mild" food allergy suddenly becomes anaphylactic. It may be a good idea to talk to the doctor about obtaining Epipens for home and school just in case Fintan experiences a severe reaction. A simple injection could save his life!

Here are some links you may find useful:

5:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful posting. I am sure that there are a lot of parents out there (and their allergic children) who will be helped (saved?) by your advice.

Allergic reactions are almost entirely avoidable, if only people would co-operate to help the child avoid the allergen. That schools may not do so, is, in my view, a criminal breach of their responsibilities: something terrible could so easily happen because of their ignorance and neglect.

I will check out the references.

Kind regards

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's another interesting item about food allergies--in Miraca Gross' book "Exceptionally Gifted Children" she noted the prevalence of allergies and atopic diseases among the gifted children in her sample. I believe it was much higher than in the general population of Australia, where the study took place.

7:38 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

You were not allowed to bring a packed lunch? What kind of rule is this??!?

11:55 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

This is the kind of mad rule that Singapore is known for: it is country that specialises in being irrational and calling it "a rule".

12:02 AM  

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