The One Thing Your College Student With Food Allergies Needs That They Probably Don't Have

Sending your child off to college is no easy situation.


I still vividly remember the day my mom dropped me off for college. She had encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and choose a college away from home. So I packed my bags and moved from a small, country town in Virginia to a freshman dorm in Boston, Massachusetts.


My mom, not wanting to discourage me, did her best to hide her own sadness at the impending separation. She and I had always been close, and now everything was about to change.


At orientation, she didn't take her sunglasses off the entire time, because she didn't want me to see that she had been crying.


This is a pretty normal freshman goodbye story. At the time, none of us knew about my own food allergies. All I had to worry about was the usual freshman concerns.


Sending a student with food allergies to college adds new layers of complexities, challenges, and anxieties.


You have spent years preparing your child to advocate for themselves. You trust them to speak with their roommates, classmates, and teachers to ensure their safety. You've spoken with the school about accommodations and policies pertaining to the dining hall. Your child had a safety plan they've practiced and are confident in. And, your child has multiple epinephrine injectors safely stored in appropriate places.


You've thought of everything, right?


Not quite.


WHAT YOU HAVEN’T THOUGHT OF


As a food allergy parent, you know that despite your very best efforts, despite your child's very best efforts, reactions can still happen.


That's why you make a safety plan, you think of the worst case scenarios and have a Plan in place to ensure your child will get the medical treatment they need immediately.


But, what if your child can't make medical decisions for herself? What if your child can't communicate his needs?


When your child turns eighteen, the law considers your child to be an adult and can make decisions for himself, including about their medical treatment.


Once your child turns eighteen, medical privacy laws (HIPAA) also prevents you, the parent, from making decisions about your child's medical care or even getting information about your child's condition.


This is often something most parents don't even think about, but when it comes to a child with food allergies, there's the extra frightening prospect that someone without adequate knowledge of food allergies and your child's specific needs may be making decisions for him.


But there's something you can do about this.


WHAT IS A MEDICAL DIRECTIVE?


A medical directive (sometimes called a medical power of attorney) is a legal document that designates another person (called an agent) to make medical decisions on behalf of someone else. Usually, this authority only vests if that other person is incapacitated and can't make medical decisions for herself.


Once your child reaches the age of eighteen, so long as he or she has capacity to sign legal documents, your child can create and sign a medical directive giving someone they trust, who knows their Allergy safety plan, knows what medications are safe or not, and knows how to communicate these issues to doctors, the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf.


A good medical directive will also include a HIPAA waiver, which will allow the chosen agent to communicate with doctors about your child's care.



WHO SHOULD SERVE AS AN AGENT?


Ideally, the chosen agent should be someone familiar with your child's medical history and food allergy safety plan. The primary chosen agent should be local to your child, but doesn't have to be.


Your child should also choose at least one backup option for agent, if not two in case the primary agent is not able or willing to serve as your child's agent.


Practically speaking, the most likely choices of agent are usually parents and trusted roommates or local friends on your child's campus.


HOW DO YOU GET A MEDICAL DIRECTIVE?


Some states offer a blank medical directive on their website that can be printed and completed simply by filling in the blanks.


It's a relatively easy form to complete. It's important to check your states requirements for a valid document, however. Some states require two witnesses testify on writing and sign that they witnessed your child sign the medical directive freely and voluntarily.


You can find other forms online at places like LegalZoom, and of course you can speak to an attorney who does estate planning.


Speaking with an attorney can often help, because they may think of something or address an issue in your child's documents you never would think of and those generic forms don't account for those issues.


A MEDICAL DIRECTIVE IS ESSENTIAL FOR YOUR CHILD WITH FOOD ALLERGIES


As soon as your child turns eighteen, make sure she has a medical directive in place. Don't wait until she's going to college. Don't wait until she's already there. Definitely don't assume just because she might be staying close to home or even living at home that this negates the need for a medical directive.


The law doesn't care whether your child uses your address or not in determining whether you can make medical decisions for her. I'd she is over eighteen, not under a guardianship, and hasn't named you as her agent, then you may not be able to get information on her condition or make decisions on her behalf in an emergency.



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