In the United States alone, some 3 million people are living with celiac disease (CD). Since the disease affects people of both sexes and all ages, children make up a significant percentage of those diagnosed.
It’s important, then, that parents have a good understanding of this lifelong condition. That way, they can provide needed support, guidance and help their children to adjust. Are you the parent of a child with celiac? Read on for some suggestions that will help you to do just that!
This severe genetic autoimmune disease leaves its sufferers unable to eat foods that contain the protein gluten. These include wheat, barley and rye. When gluten is ingested, the body launches an attack in an attempt to protect itself. However, this attack actually damages the small intestine and prevents the nutrients of gluten from being absorbed into the body.
Hence, many individuals with celiac disease have stomach problems including:
- Loss of appetite for fear of stomach discomfort
It’s interesting, though, that only about 20-30% of children have stomach-related symptoms. This makes CD harder to diagnose in children. Diagnosis may be a bit easier if other symptomsare also present such as:
- Damaged or discolored tooth enamel
- Chronic fatigue
- Itchy rash
- Lack of appropriate weight gain
- Delayed growth
The diagnosis has been made. Your child has been confirmed to have celiac disease. What now? First, if your child is old enough to understand, will come explaining what is wrong. This should be in the simplest terms possible, perhaps the same way you would explain an allergy.
There are certain things that our bodies just don’t like. You can help your child to understand that gluten just happens to be the thing that his or her body rejects. Be sure to emphasize that this condition doesn’t mean that something is wrong with them. After all, millions of people around the world have allergies of some sort.
The process doesn’t end with understanding, though. The reality is that, at this time, the only treatment available is a gluten-free diet. Even small traces of cross-contamination from gluten can make your child ill depending on the severity of the disease. That means that at school, in social situations and elsewhere, your child may stand out. Is that automatically a bad thing?
It’s true that most people do not understand what CD is. In fact, many people don’t think of it as real and view the gluten-free diet as a mere choice or preference. This is where awareness comes in. If you’ve helped your child to understand it — in an age appropriate way — they can help their peers and others to understand it too.
The bottom line is that something in certain foods — a protein — makes them very sick. It’s no different from individuals who are extremely allergic to shellfish, fruit or other things. When they come in contact with or eat those things, many break out in rashes, experience nausea and worse.
While some people do choose not to eat gluten for whatever reason, they still have the ability to do so. Individuals with celiac disease do not.
Of course, the best outcome would be for your child to be well-informed and unashamed of having this condition. Learning to be accepting of it makes it that much easier to bear. You can contribute to such an outcome by being informed, keeping a positive outlook and even by making the gluten-free diet fun and exciting!
On the other hand, some children may not yet feel comfortable with discussing their condition. In that case, this shouldn’t be forced on them. Your continued love, support and equal treatment may help them to accept it in due time.