One year ago, other children described Akil as the kid who didn’t speak. Now, they describe him as the kid who speaks with his guitar!

Akil is a 10-year-old Philadelphia student who suffers from Selective Mutism Disorder. He has not uttered a word in school since he began attending. Aside from making his academic life difficult, Akil’s disorder makes social interaction nearly impossible.

His teacher, Anne Tenaglia, attended a free professional development workshop by a nonprofit called Little Kids Rock, who then donated dozens of guitars, drums and keyboards to her classroom. They also provided her with an innovative curriculum geared toward providing beginners with instant musical success, enabling Akil to quickly find his voice in the guitar.

“If he is not eating, sleeping or doing homework, he is playing guitar,” his mother said.
Learning to play guitar has built Akil’s confidence and work ethic so much that his standardized test scores have increased dramatically. So has his social interaction with other kids.

The children who used to tease him and bully him now beg him to play the guitar for them. He even started composing his own songs, and giving pointers to other students.

“At first, he never used to smile in school,” Tenaglia said. “Now that he is part of Little Kids Rock, he smiles regularly, although he still doesn’t speak.”

When professional recording artist Joshua Radin visited Tenaglia’s Little Kids Rock class, Akil surprised his peers, teachers and therapists when he accepted the invitation to join him onstage at The Trocadero Theater to perform Radin’s hit song “Brand New Day” for more than 1200 fans. The experience touched Radin personally, who says he is proud that he could help.

“I’ve witnessed Akil’s academic and social growth first-hand since he took up the guitar,” Tenaglia says. “It’s inspiring to learn that giving a child the opportunity to learn to play an instrument can open doors like nothing else can.”

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