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Duquesne father, son prepare for special trip to Nashville music festival

Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

Jayden Russ sat on the sofa in his Duquesne home on Thursday morning listening to B.o.B.'s Top 40 hit “Airplanes” counting down the hours until he and his father would take flight to Nashville as grand prize recipients of an expenses-paid trip to this weekend's Southern Ground Music & Food Festival.

Awarded through the Zac Brown Band's Zamily fan club, the trip is Lamar Russ' reward for composing a letter to the Brain Balance Achievement Center of Pittsburgh describing how music has impacted the life of his 7-year-old son.

Lamar Russ said music has bridged a communication gap between Jayden and those he loves. He sings. He dances. He's happy.

“During these moments, Jayden is just like everyone else,” he wrote. “I play music in the car because I know it will give me an opportunity to hear his voice. Those are the moments I live for. Those are the moments that music brings to us.”

Jayden, a second-grader at Clairton Elementary School, was diagnosed with a non-specific pervasive developmental delay when he was a pre-schooler. His parents, Lamar Russ of Duquesne and Gera Turner of Clairton, sought medical advice when Jayden wasn't communicating well at 3 or 4 years of age.

Doctors checked his hearing and performed other tests before determining Jayden was in the high-functioning ranks of the autism spectrum.

After trying various programs, Jayden completed a 12-week summer class with the Brain Balance Achievement Center of Pittsburgh this year. He attended three weekly sessions intended to stimulate his sensory, motor and cognitive development.

“We look at the areas that build the brain, which is different from most programs,” center director Dr. Viola Valletta said. “We go to the root of what's not working in the brain that's supposed to be. We go back to the levels of development and use sensory, motor and cognitive stimulation to increase the functions that are not there in the child's brain.”

Valletta described Jayden as a “great kid, whose brain wasn't functioning the way it should when it comes to speech. He knew what was going on but he wasn't able to verbalize it,” she said.

Lamar Russ said it was the Brain Balance Achievement Center's unique approach to connecting with autistic children that piqued his interest.

“I didn't feel that other programs were engaging him,” Lamar Russ said. “It's a different direction. They take a wholistic approach.”

That approach includes dietary restrictions, structured programming, casual learning and, of course, music.

In addition to his favorite pop hits, Jayden listens to Brain Balance music, written by doctors and composers to stimulate specific areas of the brain, three times each day. It incorporates a variety of instruments, voices and nature sounds in varying tones and tempos.

Based on a recent reclassification that groups autism spectrum disorders with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder under the category of neuro-developmental disorders, Valletta said, it is estimated that nearly 30 percent of students in each classroom are affected. Statistically, 1 in 30 boys struggle with academics, behavior and socialization.

“We have this epidemic of kids who are struggling at home or in the classroom,” Valletta said. “There's a big disconnection.”

If therapeutic programs such as those administered by the Brain Balance Achievement Center can repair the hemispheric imbalance of one part of the brain working at a different level than the other, parents like Lamar Russ will communicate with their children on new levels.

Excited for their weekend trip, Jayden and Lamar Russ said they are ready to try something new.

“We had to familiarize ourselves with a lot of the music,” Lamar Russ said. “I don't listen to much country music, but I found out I know a few of the Zac Brown Band's songs.”

Zac Brown is a national advocate for Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Not a paid sponsor, Brown speaks out on the center's work and invites regional centers to set up information booths at his concerts.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or



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