Steven Tischer had three very specific reasons for joining the military more than 19 years ago — to serve his country, for adventure and to jump out of airplanes, said the special operations paratrooper.
But, Tischer has yet another mission — to raise awareness of Down Syndrome, the chromosomal condition that affects his 11-year-old son, Matthew. Down Syndrome occurs when an individual has three pairs of the 21st chromosome, and is also known as trisomy21, Steven said.
In honor of their son’s 10th birthday, Steven and Holly Tischer founded Tischer’s Troops in June 2010, an organization of educators and advocates for Down Syndrome and of people whom Holly calls the “diff-ABILITY” community.
“We like to say diff-ABILITY because you are differently abled,” Holly said.
Matthew, like other kids, likes animated films such as The Muppets and The Wiggles. One of his favorite pastimes is wrestling with his dad; his favorite subject is math and his favorite food is chicken. On spring break, he went to the USS North Carolina Battleship in Wilmington, N.C., with his Family.
Even with the learning disability conundrum that incorporates attention deficit, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a rising number of children diagnosed with autism, Down Syndrome is often overlooked.
“They all matter just as much as people with autism, but the only people being focused on is people with autism, so everybody else is being overshadowed. You even have wounded warriors who are overshadowed,” Holly said.
“Down Syndrome doesn’t affect a lot of people. If it doesn’t affect the community in a large way, we’re not going to get a large gathering of support,” Steven said. “It’s not like breast cancer or autism or diabetes or the major medical conditions. It’s a comparison. You have to compare where you’re at in the Down Syndrome community versus the other medical conditions and what can we do as an organization to get our voice heard in the community and make an impact.”
Federal funding for Down Syndrome research is only $55 per person annually, or 95 percent less than other disabilities, according to information distributed in a Tischer’s Troops brochure.
Tischer’s Troops also raises awareness by participating in the annual World Down Syndrome Day, held each March 21, and by holding fundraisers to donate money to the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation. DSRTF, according to its website, is dedicated to finding ways to improve learning, memory and speech for individuals with Down Syndrome.
Tischer’s Troops has a website, a Facebook page and meets once a month, having held previous meetings in the Ardennes and Linden Oaks communities, Steven said.
“We’re an action-oriented, out-in-the public support group,” he said.
As a Down Syndrome advocate, Steven has worked to eliminate bullying and the use of the “r,” word, something Matthew has dealt with from his peers.
“It’s getting worse because the kids are being defiant about the consequences.”
In other words, some youth willingly accept punishment in order to be able to continue the practice of bullying.
Instead, said Holly, youth need to learn tolerance, and it is a lesson that Tischer’s Troops tries to teach, in addition to instructing Matthew and others to seek help from an adult when bullied.
Those lessons tie into the Tischer’s Troops motto — “Empowering change through knowledge, education, and advocacy…one person at a time.”
Holly said they work hard at educating children and adults.
“We’re spinning the positive wheel of change and that’s all we’re trying to do is change the mindset of people.”
Matthew, who has an easy smile, spiked hair and eyes that light up when he’s around his parents, has lived with being bullied, but seems to embrace the best in humanity and said “You have to show respect to one another.”
For more information about Tischer’s Troops, call 339-DOWN (3696), like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Tischers-Troops-Down-syndrome-Network/344128475639416
or visit www.tischerstroops.com