My children were diagnosed with celiac disease almost eighteen months ago. Since that time, we have relearned how to purchase, prepare and cook foods and must eliminate all sources of gluten from their diets. Eating out, going to parties, even going to school have proven to be challenging for my children, not least because of the reactions of other people to their dietary restrictions.
May is National Celiac Awareness Month, so watching an episode of the Disney Channel show ‘Jessie’ titled ‘Quitting Cold Koala’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKyfpO-YbTM) in which a boy who must avoid gluten was made fun of, humiliated and isolated was extremely upsetting to my children.
Approximately 1 in 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease, most without knowing it. Many more cannot tolerate gluten for a variety of reasons. For celiacs, ingesting gluten leads to the destruction of the small intestine, eventually leaving the body unable to absorb vital nutrients, leading to diseases from lymphoma to osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, failure to thrive and decreased stature. Celiac sufferers experience severe diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and other abdominal symptoms, sometimes along with skin disorders and other severe conditions.
In the Jessie episode, a young boy was said to require a gluten-free diet. The other characters snickered at this requirement, and in fact threw a pancake at the child, which could have actually triggered a severe skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. The boy was made to be annoying, sniveling, and demanding, repeatedly teased and excluded by the other children.
For my kids, this is real. They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet. They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat. They have watched others, sometimes strangers and sometimes not, act as if their requests are somehow just a trend, just a request of an overanxious parent or a spoiled and coddled child.
Their condition is real, and their feelings are real. They are ostracized for a condition for which they did not ask, and because of which they will spend their entire lives having to make exceptions and special requests, all to keep them healthy and safe. They will often feel excluded or different, because they have to be to avoid serious illness.
Yet Disney gave children permission, and an example, to further isolate my children and others like them because of their medical conditions. Their characters made it okay to characterize a real illness as an annoyance that is justification for the ‘cool kids’ to make fun of the ‘others’. This isn’t acceptable for anyone. It is the definition of bullying.
We are asking the Disney Channel to stop airing the episode ‘Quitting Cold Koala’ on the ‘Jessie’ show, and to stop using gluten-intolerance as an excuse to bully children with any disease, disorder or disability.