Skateboarding and dyslexia. These two topics aren’t usually thought of together. But they are by the Conner family of Anchorage, Alaska.
All three Conner kids have dyslexia. In the journey to help the kids, the family has focused on the unique pairing. They’ve also discovered a way to advocate for others who struggle with reading.
Longboard4Change, or LB4C, is the Conner family initiative. The goal is to promote the sport of longboarding and get attention for dyslexia and literacy issues.
A longboard is a type of skateboard with a much longer deck. It’s faster than a typical skateboard and is often used in races. In recent years, longboards have become hugely popular among kids. That makes longboarding a great way to introduce literacy issues to kids and their families.
The Conners spread the word about dyslexia at longboard competitions and school functions. They attend with longboards and LB4C flyers in hand. They encourage families of kids to learn more about reading issues.
But how did the Conners put longboarding and dyslexia together?
It goes back to the Conner kids. Aaron, in fifth grade, has severe dyslexia and . Allyson, in fourth grade, also has dyslexia. And their eldest son, Casey (pictured above), has dyslexia, though his symptoms are milder than those of his siblings.
Mom Lisa Conner has advocated tirelessly to get her kids the services they need. In working with schools, however, she’s also realized the need for more awareness and education about dyslexia. “I have some people tell me these kids just need to try harder,” she says. “That’s not it. We need better training for teachers about dyslexia here in Alaska.”
To support her kids, Lisa is also always on the lookout for their passions and strengths. That’s where longboards come in.
Casey, a sophomore in high school, is passionate about longboards. He made his first longboard in middle school, during an applied technology class (think woodshop). Soon he started riding up to 20 miles a day and winning downhill racing competitions.
Casey loves working with his hands and is always coming up with ideas. So Lisa thought making his own longboards might be a way for him to excel outside of traditional academics.
In 2014, the summer after middle school, Casey started a longboard business in the family garage. Sales took off. A year later, with Mom’s help, Casey opened 907Boards, a shop in Anchorage that sells longboards and skateboards.
As a local teen with a business, Casey started getting attention from news media and the local community. He was also featured in school newsletters.
Soon, the 907Boards shop became an approved school field-trip destination. Students of all ages started to visit to learn about business concepts and skating. They got lessons on longboarding, with an emphasis on safety and family-friendly skateboarding. The shop became a favorite of middle school and high school classes. There’s even a half-pipe in the back of the shop, and Casey offers lessons.
It was this intense interest that gave Lisa the idea of pairing longboards with dyslexia. Like other parents, she has sometimes been frustrated by the lack of attention on dyslexia. She wondered if the family could harness the popularity of longboarding to raise awareness of dyslexia. And that’s how LB4C got started.
For Lisa Conner and their family, LB4C is about creating change. The “change” they want is to increase understanding of dyslexia in Alaska and throughout the world.
“So many people don’t know what dyslexia is,” says Lisa. “I’ve had many people thank me for talking about this.”
The Conners and LB4C have partnered with local literacy groups, like Literate Nation Alaska. They also work with the Alaska Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Another is Decoding Dyslexia–Alaska. Recently, LB4C even hosted a training for parents on how to talk about dyslexia at school board meetings.
LB4C is a family effort. When the family presents their work to organizations, both Casey and Aaron share in speaking and presenting materials. Public speaking has been a boon for Aaron. Mom Lisa notes that while he’s behind in reading, Aaron is very verbal. “He’s very knowledgeable and outgoing,” she says. The family even jokes that Aaron is a better salesperson than Casey.
“I’m not a dyslexic learner,” says Lisa. “But when I talk to my kids, especially Aaron, I compare their struggles to me trying to climb a mountain. I couldn’t do it without lots of help.”
“I want the same thing for all struggling readers,” she concludes. “That’s the change we want to make with LB4C. We want to live in a world where everyone can learn to read.”
Read about another family that focuses on dyslexia advocacy.
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