With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

27 July 2012

Food Allergy & Asthma Educator: Q & A with Harriet Spitzer-Picker

I met Harriet a year or two ago through online food allergy activities. I've enjoyed exchanging ideas with Harriet on Twitter and notice she is very tuned-in and always has great observations. She is passionate about her work, and I admire her dedication. I think Food Allergy Buzz readers will enjoy meeting Harriet too, through this Q & A. Thank you, Harriet for doing this Q & A for Food Allergy Buzz!

What made you decide to become an asthma allergy educator?
Originally, I became an asthma educator, to help educate the entire population about asthma.  Not just the asthmatics, who have very specific needs, but also everyone around asthmatics.  This way everyone would understand what having asthma was like.  I then added allergy education after the birth of my boys, both of who have food allergies.  The two are so often found together.

What does a Certified Asthma educator/food allergy coach do?
I am a Certified Asthma Educator, or A-EC.  An A-EC must pass the National Asthma Educator Certification Board exam.  To qualify to sit for the exam, one must be an MD, RN, or have completed over 1000 hours in the field of asthma education.  There are fewer than 4000 A-EC’s worldwide.  The exam covers many topics related to asthma and is very difficult, with a 67.9% passing rate.
I conduct workshops in a group setting.  I also work directly on a one-on-one basis.  We review asthma action plans, ensure asthmatics understand the medications and are taking them correctly, and there is a strong emphasis on identifying and eliminating triggers.  My food allergy coaching practice is similar. I help people with food allergies to live fully productive lives.  With food allergies, we are often seeing young children with parents who are frightened and overwhelmed.  I help them navigate the school systems.  I also conduct workshops in the schools.  Sometimes the workshops are exclusively for staff members, who are unsure on how to handle food allergies in the building.  We cover topics such as defining food allergies, hidden allergens, key words to look for, and how to deal with food allergic children in the school setting.  Often the workshops are attended by parents and the greater community with a similar agenda.  There is so much confusion on the topic, it feels great to know I am making a difference.
What kind of training/background do you have?
I am a Certified Asthma Educator.  I am a mom of two food allergic boys.  Previously, I was a teacher in the New York City school system.  I left teaching and created an award-winning asthma education program that went into public school and camps.
Do you have asthma and/or allergies?
Yes! I have been an asthmatic since I was 18 months old.  I spent most of my childhood in and out of the hospital and I was on oral steroids every single day from age 4-12. When I was 12, I needed to be placed on a respirator due to one of my attacks.  I had many allergies as a child, but most have gone away.
What sort of challenges you have encountered as a parent of an asthmatic and allergic child?
I am a member of the New York City Asthma Partnership schools committee, so I was well prepared to work with the schools regarding my children’s asthma.  I was not prepared for reaction all around to my children’s food allergies.  A surprising percentage of parents, teachers, and administrators do not take food allergies seriously and were shockingly indifferent to the safety of my children. I have had to fight shared snack policies, nasty parents, and poor planning.  I have also had to fight to create an environment where my children are not made to feel like outcasts based on a misunderstanding of the allergies.
What sort of clients do you work with—Families? Schools?
I work with both families and schools. For families I offer individualized attention.  We go over medications and proper technique, peak flows, and working with identifying triggers.  On a broader level, we cover the anxiety of having asthma. For food allergies, I teach how to read labels and help reduce risk. We cover the forms needed for schools. We also work together to help people live without feeling trapped by food allergies.

In the larger settings, I do workshops or assemblies.  I offer basic information and then leave plenty of room for questions.
Anything else about yourself or your consulting firm you like to share with Food Allergy Buzz readers?
I can help you find or cook just about anything you can think of, regardless of your food allergies.  Food allergies do not necessarily mean you can’t have what you want, it usually just means you have to work a little harder.  That’s one area where I can help. 
I can be reached at
Harriet Spitzer-Picker Consulting

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