(Adapted by LDAYR – LD Awareness Month)
School was “a place of fear, terror and trauma,” for Ryan Howard who was bullied and ridiculed because he was different.
“It was a place I didn’t want to be,” said Howard as he talked about the challenges he faced growing up because of learning disabilities. “I learned to deal with it. It wasn’t a great experience, but I graduated high school.”
Though he longed to continue his education, fears and anxiety held him back. “I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a waste of time.”
Still, Howard enrolled in a program at Seneca College but walked out even before answering a single question on an entrance exam. Fortunately, he had a fall back position — a job at Mamma’s Pizza. In time, he purchased and successfully ran a franchise putting thoughts of school on the back burner. “I really wanted to go back to school and often walked the corridors of York University where my friends were studying, but I didn’t have the courage to attend because of past experience.”
After selling his franchise and joining staff as regional supervisor at the company’s headquarters, where he’s worked for 15 years, Howard’s dream of continuing his education and being a firefighter was reignited.
Out of the blue, he searched the words learning disabilities on his computer and the Learning Disabilities Association of York Region (LDARY) popped up. Howard picked up the phone and made the call that changed his life.
“I met a phenomenal lady Renee Flannery who helped me identify my learning disabilities,” Howard said, adding he had dyslexia and though he could read, he didn’t always understand the meaning on his first try. At LDAYR, a United Way York Region (UWYR) community agency, he gained the skills he needed to overcome his challenges.
Dysgraphia, a little known learning disability that affects writing and requires a complex set of motor and processing skills was also identified at the LDAYR and explained his chicken scratching when he wrote. It still takes time because writing down his thoughts can be difficult but knowing why helped boost his confidence.
Programs such as Job Fit employment preparation and other services at LDAYR focused on the areas where he needed the most help.
“The clouds parted for me and the angels almost sang,” the 35-year-old father of Mya, 2 ½ and Zara 1 ½said of his disabilities. “It all made sense to me.”
No wonder Ryan dreaded elementary and high school. “At the time, there was little understanding of learning disabilities,” he said. “They did what they could. I got pushed through.”
Howard returned to LDAYR every now and then for support, resources and encouragement he needed to go back to school “and pursue my dreams.”
Fast-forward four years and Howard is balancing family life, work and school with ease. He’s also in the last year of the firefighting program at Seneca. “I wouldn’t be where I am dealing with my challenges without LDAYR,” he said, adding it would have been easy to give up, “but I was a dog with a bone.” Support from wife Raghma and employer Mauro Galli also built up his selfconfidence.
These days he’s on a roll and is a member of the UWYR Storytellers’ Bureau, sharing his experiences.