Dentistry alumnus speaks about his struggle and success with Tourette’s

David Bardsley’s childhood years were difficult, to say the least.

After three years of medical investigation that led to a period of institutionalization, he was nine years old when he was diagnosed with what was then called “mental retardation.”

It took 20 years before he received the correct diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome.

“When I got my diagnosis…at least I knew there was a reason for my peculiar behaviour,” Dr. Bardsley says. “The diagnosis was a mixed blessing, but it answered a lot of questions and cleared up a lot of things from my past.”

Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited neurological disorder. It was less prevalent when Dr. Bardsley was a child as it is today, which he suggests could be the reason he was misdiagnosed.

Before Dr. Bardsley even knew he had Tourette’s, he had already graduated from the Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry’s Doctor in Dental Surgery and Master of Science in oral and maxillofacial surgery programs, and was practicing as a surgeon in Vancouver.

“Second term in third year [at Dalhousie] you [had] to go to the [Victoria General Hospital] and scrub in. I wasn’t there two days and I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he says. “It was my real first exposure to [dental surgery]. When you got to see what the specialty was all about, that was a whole different world. I loved it.”

Dr. Bardsley returned to Dalhousie to speak at the Faculty of Dentistry’s Centennial Celebration last week about his new book The Less Than Perfect Child.

“A couple of years ago I got asked to speak to a rotary club. After I’d given probably 50 of these talks, people always asked for the book,” he says. “I wanted parents and individuals to understand what it’s like to have a behavioural and learning disability. It’s not necessary to be cured in order to have a happy, healthy, fulfilling life. I’ll probably go to the grave with my Tourette’s, but life is pretty good.”

Dr. Bardsley’s book discusses the important alternatives to psychotropic medication, which is often used to treat behavioural and learning disabilities such as Tourette’s. He says the support he received at home was crucial to his success.

Supporting students through accommodation

At Dalhousie, the Office of Student Accessibility and Accommodation also supports students and facilitates their access to the university’s academic programs, activities, facilities and services.

The university’s goal is to provide students who require accommodation with the support necessary to be successful, says Nancy Webb, the Faculty of Dentistry’s manager of academic affairs. The faculty follows the university’s accommodation policy.

“Within the last four or five years we’ve had a couple of students who have required accommodation and it’s really nice to see that [the university’s process is] working and the students are meeting [the program requirements] with success. We’re very comfortable with the way it’s going.”

Academic accommodation for students has become more common in the Faculty of Dentistry over the past few years, she adds, suggesting this is the result of the university’s broader efforts through the Office of Student Accessibility and Accommodation.

“We certainly have gained inspiration from the first student we had who received academic accommodation through Dalhousie’s new formal process. The student told us that she was told in her [previous] undergraduate studies that the likelihood was that she would not succeed,” she says. “[The student] came into our program, we provided the accommodation, and everyone was comfortable that she had met the challenges of the program and we were quite confident in her abilities.”

Ms. Webb says the accommodation process allows faculty to recognize their limits so they can identify whether a student has met the challenges of a program.

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Thursday, May 31st, 2012 General Dentistry

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