Author calls for understanding of learning differences
Frank Ryan’s life had taken some unexpected turns. Ultimately, they led the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) student to write and publish a transformative book sharing his powerful message of love and support for struggling students.
One the greatest barriers Ryan had to overcome was accessing education. When he was in Grade Two, he says a teacher falsely accused him of stealing about 50 cents during a school trip.
“She ridiculed me and took me out of class using her fingers to pinch my ear. A little while later my mother showed up to find me crying in the hallway hysterically, and confronted this woman who seemed to have it out for me,” he said, noting the incident left him with a bad reputation.
The next year, Ryan was placed in special education, which fueled his growing sense of isolation.
“While I remember the special needs teacher being so kind, when I would go back to regular classes, I would always feel like I was different or there was something wrong with me,” he said.
Although Ryan had the loving support of his mother, her family, and his late father’s family, it was not enough to compensate for how lonely he felt at school. He was singled out a lot by other students.
“As time passed, my self-esteem gradually diminished,” he said.
Eventually, a guidance counselor at a new school took Ryan under her wing. She was baffled as to why he was struggling so much in school, and refused to accept he was lazy or incapable. Her hunch was correct and that led to Ryan being diagnosed with a learning disability.
However, the damage was already done.
At the time, Ryan didn’t feel he was worth any effort and walked away from high school with no diploma, and a deep lack of trust in education, teachers, and himself. He started working in a physically demanding field and decades would pass before he decided to undergo testing and identify other potential career paths.
His high scores shocked him.
“I realized my belief that I was unintelligent was a lie, and that I actually was smart,” he said.
With his newfound confidence, Ryan enrolled at The Murphy Centre to finally finish his high school education. What should’ve taken months only took him three weeks, and he even earned his first of several prestigious scholarships.
“I developed a great relationship with a teacher named Ron Boland,” he said. “To this day I still enjoy visiting and talking to Ron about life or whatever comes to mind. He has become a mentor to me and one of my biggest supporters. While I became close with him especially, I feel that those I encountered during my time there are like extended family, and it brings a smile to my face to visit them.”
Ryan was looking for a way to give back when a volunteer opportunity at the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (LDANL) caught his eye. He knew it would be a perfect fit and among his many tasks was creating a slideshow infused with his own experience and what he learned.
“Shortly after this, I came up with the idea to convert my slideshow into a book, and that was how Why Am I Different? was created,” he said.
In typical fashion, Ryan wasted no time.
“I converted the message from my slideshow along with new images into a rough copy within three days. Within a total of five days, I had sourced a printing company and had my first proof printed,” he said, adding he even established his own publishing company, Ingenious Publications Inc., to speed the process along.
“Through consultation with Ron from the Murphy Centre and those of the Learning Disabilities Association, I had a final copy completed in two weeks and printed 200 copies.”
Ryan hopes the book will help children like him understand that just because they learn differently doesn’t make them any less than anyone else.
“My message within my book, for those with learning disabilities, is that there is help, they are not alone, and that belief can sometimes be more powerful than capability,” he said. “I also provide positive words of encouragement, where I explain that I believe in them and that they can accomplish great things. For those without learning disabilities, I tried to convey a message of understanding. I explain that most children just want to fit in and that it is important not to be unkind or treat someone differently for the way they learn.”
Why Am I Different? is not just a book; it’s a call for understanding, and a catalyst for change.
Ryan has transformed his struggles into a source of inspiration for students and teachers, demonstrating that adversity can be a steppingstone to empowerment and hope.
Ryan is currently enrolled in the Business Administration Accounting program at CNA and plans to complete a business degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is also planning more publications and is interested in pursuing public speaking engagements to share his message.
For more information about Why Am I Different?, visit yamidifferent.ca. Ryan donates $5 from each copy sold to the LDANL. For more information about the services and supports provided by LDANL, visit www.ldanl.ca.