Meaningful Victories: Alumnus Helps Children with Disabilities

By Patrick Bohn, April 6, 2017

Alumnus Helps Children with Disabilities

For Jules Doliscar ’13, an occupational therapist at the Franziska Racker Centers in Ithaca, working with children with disabilities presents similar challenges to the ones he faced as a standout wrestler for the Bombers.

“When I competed, I tried to have a specific strategy for each opponent,” said Doliscar, who compiled a 70-5 record on the mat during his career and finished as a national runner-up during his senior season. “But I also had to be able to adapt that strategy if it wasn’t working. I do the same thing with the children at Racker.”

He recalls working one day with a nonverbal child named Josiah. “We were supposed to be working on his writing, but I was having trouble just getting him to sit still,” he said. “So I thought about what I could do differently. I knew that he liked trains, so we worked on some puzzle and coloring activities that utilized them. It wasn’t the original plan, but it was a way to meet him halfway and keep him engaged rather than frustrated.”

Doliscar originally studied nursing at Nassau Community College but transferred to Ithaca after hearing about the school’s highly regarded occupational therapy program. “My mother was a nurse, so that always appealed to me. But being an occupational therapist provides more opportunities,” he said. “And everyone I spoke with told me how great the program was.”

Encouragement was something he experienced at IC almost immediately. “The amount of support the faculty gives you, both academically and personally, is amazing,” he said. “Being a student-athlete in a program as demanding as this one could be hard, but my professors always understood if I needed to miss a class or move a test because of a match. And they’d always ask me how things went the next time I saw them.”

That all-around support is something Doliscar provides to the children he works with at Racker. “If they’ve had a tough night at home, they might not come in as focused as they need to be,” he said. “I can’t be hard on them if that happens. I have to be supportive and help them work through things the best I can, whether that’s by listening or adapting some activities."

Doliscar’s time as a co-captain — and now as an assistant coach — with the wrestling team also taught him critical skills he has applied to his job. “When you’re part of a team, you’ve got to bring energy all the time, even if you’re having a bad day. Your teammates need that,” he said. “At Racker, if I’m having a bad day and I bring that into the classroom, 20 kids are going to pick up on that, and then my bad day becomes their bad day as well. I’ve learned to bring the same energy as an occupational therapist that I did as an athlete.”

Although he’s only been at Racker for a short time, Doliscar has learned just how important his work is. “I have the opportunity to support children as they develop the skills they’ll utilize for the rest of their lives,” he said. “That’s an amazing feeling.”

And the lessons he’s learned at Ithaca are still paying off. “When I’m working with a child and a problem arises, I don’t always know exactly what to do right away,” he said. “But I trust in myself to figure it out. That trust is something my professors at IC instilled in me, and I’m grateful for it.”