The ea|tef Child at School
For those of you who might be sending your ea|tef child off to school for the first time this fall, it can be a very frightening prospect. For five years you have guarded your child from choking hazards, you have watched him closely at mealtimes in case something gets stuck and you have diligently instructed family and friends never to feed your child anything without your permission. Now, you are facing kindergarten where you won’t be able to supervise his or her every move.
Here are some basic things you will want the teacher and other caregivers to know:
• Children born with ea|tef have a characteristic “TEF cough” that is caused by weakness in the trachea (windpipe). This coughing, by itself, does not mean the child is ill.
• Children born with ea|tef may be more susceptible to respiratory infections. Hand washing is very important and should be encouraged with all children in the class.
• This child may have gastroesophageal (G.E.) reflux which causes stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus.
• The child may need to take medication during the day.
You will also want to make the teacher/caregivers aware that because your ea|tef child has an esophagus that doesn’t work the way it should, food can easily get stuck on the way down. Choking episodes can look very frightening to people who have never seen one before. Let your child’s teacher know what your usual procedure is. They need to know if your child is usually able to cough up lodged food or if a drink of water can help wash it down.
Children in elementary school may be rushed during the lunch period. It is very important that all lunchroom supervisors are told the following things about ea|tef children:
• The child should never be rushed while eating or drinking. Rushing him could lead to a choking episode.
• The child will need to eat slower than other children since smaller bites and more chewing are necessary.
• The child should always be upright during and after eating. This will help prevent food from accidentally entering the lungs and causing a lung infection.
• The child may only be able to eat small portions of food at a time and may need to be given other opportunities to snack.
• The child will need to drink more than other children to help food go down the esophagus. Do not limit the amount of fluid this child takes.
Of course the most important thing is for you, the parents or guardians of the child, to be in constant communication with your child’s school. Be sure they have easy access to phone numbers to reach you in an emergency. If at all possible, identify a specific person or people in the school whom you can train to do things in a way you and your child are comfortable with. This includes identifying when they need to call you or call emergency medical services.
Open communication will make you more comfortable, and will make the school personnel more comfortable, knowing they have all the information necessary to keep your child safe and happy in school.
Adapted from the pamphlet ea|tef: A Guide for Teachers, available from the ea|tef Child and Family Support Connection.