Josh Williams, 14, of Ocean Springs, loves music. He loves to sing, he loves to dance and he loves to listen.
“When he comes home from school he puts his headphones on and listens to music all night,” his mother, Amy Williams, said. “He can hear a song a couple of times and he will know all of the words.”
On Saturday, Josh will be heading to Centennial Plaza in Gulfport with his beloved “Nana” to see his favorite band perform — The Band Perry, who will be headlining the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration South, which includes Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and Paul Thorn.
“I like country music and The Band Perry — I like rap, too, but not the songs with cussing,” Josh said. “My favorite Band Perry song is ‘If I Die Young.’”
He paused. “The Band Perry is coming to see me, Josh Williams.”
A mother’s journey
Josh was born with what is known as “trisomy 21,” meaning he had extra copies of chromosome 21. Trisomy 21 is commonly called Down Syndrome. March 21, or “3-21” was National Down Syndrome Day.
“I had a healthy pregnancy,” Williams said, “and we had no idea Josh was going to be born with Down Syndrome. But I knew as soon as he was born.”
Williams said she and her husband “never missed a beat” and they started to learn as much about the genetic disorder as quickly as they could.
“We are very interested in the science end of this,” she said. “We want to know as much about it as we can.”
Although many children born with Down Syndrome have serious health problems, especially with their hearts and eyes, Josh is a healthy teenage boy and a member of his basketball team at school.
“We never saw this as anything but a blessing,” Williams said. “It’s like buying a ticket to take a trip to France but ending up in Norway — both are nice places.”
Becoming an advocate
Williams said she has become active in programs for people with special needs and disabilities on the Coast. She said she has seen more services for those with special needs on the Coast over the last decade.
“We are involved with the Gulf Coast Down Syndrome Society and South Mississippi Special Needs Organization,” Amy Williams said.
But as much as things have improved for those living with Down Syndrome, she said there is still a lot of progress to be made, particularly with long-term life goal planning.
Clemson and Mississippi State University are two of the 200 or so schools that offer college-level programs for people with intellectual disabilities.
“We need to have more resources for people with Down Syndrome is South Mississippi,” she said. “Why are there not scholarships offered for people with mental disabilities?It costs a lot more to take care of a person with special needs than someone without them.”
Williams said her main goal for Josh is for him to be able to take care of himself after he graduates high school.
“In a few years, he’s going to be out of high school and I want him to learn life skills,” she said. “”But there aren’t any college programs available down here and it will cost more to send Josh to Mississippi State than it will to send him to Clemson — I hate that he will have to go so far away to attend college.”
A typical teenager
Josh recently attended Tim Tebow’s “Night to Shine,” a dance for children with special needs that gives them a full high school prom experience.
“Josh had a great time — he danced so much he literally danced the heel off of his shoe,” his mom said.
Dancing his one of Josh’s many passions. He’s skilled in all of the latest dances including the “Whip” and the “Nae Nae.”
“I’m going to dance when I see The Band Perry,” he said.
He has a big week ahead of him, as he will not only be seeing The Band Perry, he will also be going to Disney World with his family.
“I’m going to see Mickey Mouse,” he said.
Josh is also passionate about food. He said pizza is his favorite. He understands the generational disconnect that often happens between teenagers and their parents.
“My dad calls pizza ‘pie,’” he said, a thought that had him laughing out loud for several minutes. “He calls it ‘pie.’”