Celiac Disease Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Gluten is the general name of the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. About 1 in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease.
In kids with celiac disease, gluten damages villi, the finger-like projections in the small intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. When the villi are damaged, the body can’t absorb nutrients the body needs. If that happens, a child can become malnourished and grow poorly.
Eating gluten can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, weight loss, fatigue, and skin rashes. But some people with celiac disease experience no symptoms at all.
People with celiac disease are at risk of malnutrition, anemia (a decreased number of red blood cells due to lack of iron), and osteoporosis (weakened bones from lack of calcium).
Because gluten can be found in everything from breakfast cereals to prepared luncheon meats, people with celiac disease must know what’s in the foods they eat. Other common foods that often contain gluten include pizza, breads, cereals, cookies, and pasta.
Students with celiac disease may:
- need to go to the bathroom often due to diarrhea and other symptoms
- feel tired, weak, or irritable
- need to go to the school nurse for medications or medical attention
- have to bring their own snacks and lunch to school to avoid gluten
- need to their wash hands after handling products that contain gluten, such as play dough or paper mache
What Teachers Can Do
To avoid gluten — and help prevent triggering celiac symptoms — it’s important to carefully read the labels of all foods and beverages you hand out in class. Flours made from these foods do not have gluten and are safe for your students with celiac disease: corn, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, arrowroot, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), quinoa, tapioca, teff, and potato. Also OK are all plain meats, fish, chicken, legumes, nuts, seeds, oils, milk, cheese, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.
Even if you take precautions, a student with celiac disease may accidentally ingest gluten at some point. Your student may or may not have symptoms, such as stomach pain or diarrhea, but even small amounts of gluten can cause inflammation in the gut. In such cases, be sure to notify the student’s parents.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013