A young girl who was bullied so badly she was left mute has finally found her voice after three years – to sing FROZEN.
Phoenix Tilling was aged six when a classmate grabbed hold of her and shoved her headfirst into a sandpit.
Her family say she was left bruised and badly shaken by the bully’s rough and unprovoked attack – and the little girl shut down.
She retreated into silence and it was nearly three years before she could utter a single word in public again.
But thanks to a teacher whoi played the ukele she turned to music therapy and mouthed her first words – at a Frozen recital.
Her mum Andrea said: ”She came home and her face was smashed, her eye socket and nose were bruised and bleeding.
”She didn’t tell us exactly what happened but we found out from a third party. Until it happened and she was bullied she communicated fine with everyone.
”But after she suffered this trauma she just stopped speaking at school, to people she didn’t know or in social situations.
”She would be fine at home, talk a lot as usual but if someone even just said hello to her on the street she just couldn’t answer them.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Andrea put her once outgoing child’s apparent reluctance to speak in public down to shock.
But she says her reserve and nervousness only worsened and she refused to engage with other pupils at her new school or participate in class.
Mum of three Andrea, 38, of Swindon, Wilts., said: “I think for quite a while I said to her, ‘Come on speak up, you can do it’.
”We didn’t think it was going to last. It was just short-term because of the trauma, that she was withdrawing.”
The family say t soon became clear Phoenix was physically unable to talk and she developed epliepsy.
Phoenix was referred to a specialist and diagnosed at long last with selective mutism – a severe anxiety disorder affecting 1 in 140 children.
A teaching assistant at her new school set out to bring her out of her shell by playing her songs on the ukulele, and encouraging her to relax and let go.
Amazed at her daughter’s progress through music, when Andrea spotted a notice for a Frozen workshop at Everybody Sing last winter, she signed her up.
The two-day intensive course ended in a small performance and she began mouthing the words,
It was the first time in three years the ten-year-old had dared to join a group activity and face her gnawing fear of crowds.
“It was lovely to see her in an environment that was inclusive, where she could just be herself. There was no pressure for her to sing. She could do as much as she wanted.”
She enrolled in classes and steadily, thanks to the support of teacher Sophie Haynes, found her voice – on stage.
Their first class together was a one-on-one Abba workshop, one of Phoenix’s favourite bands.
“It felt like a turning point,” enthuses Andrea. “It came to the point where I think we didn’t know if we would see her like that outside the house again.
”It was very emotional to see her up there. It’s something she did on her own and she was comfortable. She was singing like nobody was watching.”
She has now grown into a keen performer with a powerful instrument, pulling her weight in every one of Everybody Sing.
“Music is an amazing therapy,” beams Andrea. “She is so bottled up in normal social situations but when she sings I get my daughter back.
”The first show she did she was in the back to the side of the stage but they did Matilda and she was in the middle.
”You could actually hear her. People got to see a bit of the Phoenix that we know. She is still a bit reserved but she is progressing so much.”
Everybody Sing director Kerry Richings along with school patron Maureen Nolan surprised Phoenix in front of a packed auditorium last month with a six-month scholarship.
Andrea said: “I was so proud of her. When Maureen Nolan called her name she didn’t hesitate, she went straight up to her. She didn’t have to think about it.
“Phoenix is so cheeky and lively when she’s with us. She thrives on people with a sense of humour, she laughs and giggles all the time – it’s a coping mechanism.
”I just want people to see her the way we get to see her. The problem with being diagnosed with something like this is that people don’t think about the person behind it.
”They are not just their condition. They are an individual and with the right help they can grow and overcome it and Everybody Sing knew that.”
The young performer is now preparing for her Grade 1 exam in musical theatre.