The Hippo


Jun 27, 2019








Kalina Melia and Sibvon Rose performing at the opening celebration for the Nashua Street Piano Project. Photo by Scott Baker.

New Hampshire Walk for Apraxia

Where: The Great Island Common, 301 Wentworth Road, New Castle
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact:; registration at, $20

Finding her voice
Brookline 7-year-old with apraxia of speech to perform “Fight Song” at walk

By Kelly Sennott

 When Brookline 7-year-old Kalina Melia was diagnosed with apraxia of speech at 15 months, her parents Lauren and Sean Melia knew very little about the motor speech disorder, which disrupts a person’s ability to speak clearly, or speak at all. 

But they learned about it in the years that followed, during thrice-a-week speech therapy and while advocating for their daughter, particularly when she went to school. They found they weren’t alone.
“A lot of people don’t know what it is at first. They just think it’s a delay,” Lauren Melia said. “Cognitively, it doesn’t affect her. She reads at a third-grade level. She gets straight A’s.”
Difficulty stems from the inability to connect speech messages from the brain to the mouth. Kalina always knew what was going on, but for years she felt afraid to speak up in class, to raise her hand or to make friends in school. She was bullied and needed adult facilitation during lessons and in friendships.
But her parents did notice there was one thing she enjoyed doing — singing. She was always putting on shows at home while sporting fancy outfits and performing in their karaoke machine. So a year ago, they signed her up for singing lessons at North Main Music school. 
“We thought this would be a good way to help build her self-esteem and for her to advocate for herself,” Lauren Melia said.
They were right.
Kalina began working under Sibvon Rose last August, and the pair describe it as love at first lesson. The first songs they worked on were “Starlight” and “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Rose noticed the intensity with which the little girl focused.
“This girl is so driven. She wants to do this so bad,” Rose said. “I could see something special about her immediately.”
True, the apraxia made learning music more difficult. A lot of children with apraxia, Lauren Melia said, will drop sounds, especially at the end of words. Songs with complicated words took longer master. 
But Kalina, who attends Richard Maghakian Memorial School in Brookline, was determined, practicing every day, inside and outside of lessons. 
Today, she’s not shy at all.
Kalina has since sung at weddings, churches, Jack and Jill events and the Nashua Street Pianos opening ceremony, and she’s a regular performer with the music school’s cover band. On Sept. 17, she sings “Fight Song” at the New Hampshire Walk for Apraxia, now in its 7th year. 
“And I don’t even get nervous onstage,” Kalina said, giggling.
During an interview at the music school with her mom and music teacher last week, Kalina talked about her favorite musicians — Taylor Swift (her first concert) and Meghan Trainor (whom she’ll see live for her birthday later this month) — and about her dream to someday be famous and inspire other kids with apraxia of speech to find their voices. She wore a black and white dress with a gemstone hair piece and was waiting for a loose tooth to come out. 
She sounded like any ordinary kid.
“A lot of times, kids with apraxia can’t do what she can do,” Lauren Melia said. “When she sings, it’s emotional because we’re lucky she’s talking, never mind singing.”
It’s caused her to become more confident outside the music school as well. 
“Even at school, they’ve noticed her advocating more for herself and seeking friends. … She’s having playdates and she’s going in [school] and talking about what she’s doing in music,” Lauren Melia said. “When she’s here, they don’t treat her like she’s any different from any other kid.”
Rose said she’s seen music touch other kids in ways like this.
“Music touches a different part of your brain than normal therapy. … I’ve seen kids who were cripplingly shy turn into completely different children,” Rose said. “It was really cool to go through this with her.”
All the effort it’s taken Kalina to learn to talk and sing has given her a strong work ethic. When she became ill and Rose told her to rest her voice, Kalina took it seriously and wrote down notes when she wanted to talk to her family. She’s currently working with Rose on a song she wrote called “Vacation Daze,” inspired by an Aruba trip.
“Sibvon said to me one day, ‘Maybe if you write a song, we could work on it.’ So then I went home and started,” Kalina said. “I wrote the whole song in one night.”
She said it’s more fun to practice when you have an end goal, which is why she likes singing in concerts and at public events. And she’s been quiet for so long it’s nice to celebrate her voice. 
Her family has been adamant about educating the local schools and communities about apraxia of speech and telling Kalina’s story, in the hopes it might help other families going through what they did. 
The young singer’s advice to other kids with apraxia of speech: “Once you fight for years, maybe one day you’ll get there,” she said. 

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