Childhood speech delay won’t get in Jack Rousseau’s way

Sachi Nahas

You may have seen him play tennis against his co-host in season seven of Redwood TV, or watched him interview a variety of student athletes, ranging from golfers to cheerleaders. Senior Jack Rousseau is known throughout Redwood as a sports host for Redwood TV, and his friendly charisma and outgoing personality make it easy for him to entertain the students who are watching. Jack always carries a conversation with ease and conducts a steady interview, but no one would ever guess that he couldn’t speak a word until he was six years old, when he finally said the word “no.”

“I have an older daughter who started talking around 18-20 months, when Jack was a similar age he still wasn’t talking. He became very frustrated when trying to communicate with me. One day it was almost like he was a completely different person, he couldn’t express himself. It was right when he was old enough to know he could communicate but he just couldn’t,” said Laura Rousseau, Jack’s mother.

When Jack was around 20 months, Laura decided to seek out a medical professional in order to

Jack Rousseau was speech delayed until he was six years old.
Jack Rousseau was speech delayed until he was six years old.

evaluate Jack’s difficulty.  The doctor told her that every child is on their own timetable when it comes to learning and speaking. A couple months went by and when Jack was 2 years old, he started to become more upset. He tried to speak, but could not formulate words.

“They told me they didn’t know what it was that delayed him, but eventually he would catch up. They also didn’t know how long it would take him. It could be six days, it could be six months, or six years, they had no idea,” Laura said.

Jack was then diagnosed with a major speech delay and was not able to learn in a regular school environment until the age of six. Jack’s doctor suggested he and his mother get involved with Easter Seals, a non profit charity in Novato where ‘Mommy and Me’ classes were held. At Easter Seals, they began teaching him to speak all over again. Jack’s behavior eventually improved as he learned some sign language and could communicate if he wanted more food or if he was thirsty, but he still wasn’t able to speak.

At the age of three, Jack still hadn’t uttered a word, so his parents decided to send him to Marindale, a special education school in San Rafael. The school specializes in working with students struggling from a variety of disabilities including autism, down syndrome, blindness and others students with speech disabilities. Jack remembers practicing many mimicking exercises and a lot of repetition at Marindale in order to improve his speech.

“Not only did I go to that school for three years, but after, I had to do non-stop speech exercises including naming objects and describing them. On top of that I also had a therapist  who specifically helped me with speech therapy until I was around ten years old,” Jack said.

For the three years that Jack attended Marindale, he followed a daily routine every morning, which consisted of taking the school bus along with other students from Tiburon to Terra Linda. When he was six, Jack was finally vocally ready to move to a local public school, enrolling at Reed Elementary in Tiburon. The open social aspect and integration into a new community was a big step. According to Jack, it was a huge adjustment, but a necessary one.

“Now as a senior I’ve taken a lot of classes which I demonstrate presentation and group projects. For example I’ve taken AP seminar, where we had to make six to eight minute presentations by ourselves and memorize quotes about a certain topic,” Jack said.

Senior Jack Rousseau was speech delayed as a child
Senior Jack Rousseau was speech delayed as a child.

Jack’s dramatic improvement not only affected himself but the people around him. His parents were overjoyed with his progress.

“I believed it would happen, I just didn’t know how long it would take. As he made changes I became ecstatic. I was so incredibly filled with joy that he was finally becoming more able to function like a majority of other children his age,” Laura said.

As Jack got into the rhythm of regular elementary and middle school, he became involved in school activities. He joined sports teams and a drama club, which helped him interact and communicate with many different people. Additionally, he made his own segment on the TV show at Del Mar.

“ [Speech delay] was more of a barrier to get over. After I passed that barrier, I excelled in it, which was a very cool thing to eventually find out about,” Jack said.

Now a senior in high school, Jack has learned from his previous challenges and is highly influenced by his older sister, Natalie.

“As she is an acting major at USC, seeing her on stage expressing herself was something which awed me. It was her element. Eventually, when I got to express that through plays—I don’t act anymore, only a hobby in middle school—and sports I played in, I felt so comfortable,” Jack said.

Since speech and communication are key components of developing relationships and necessities for everyday interactions, Jack believes that through conversations and talking in general, he was able to truly express himself.

“The whole thing about being speech delayed was that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk, I wanted to, I just didn’t know how to express it,” Jack said. “I learned that it doesn’t matter who or where you are, you can always learn from anything and get past it.”

Now Redwood Tv sports host, Jack Rousseau never let his speech delay get in his way.
Now Redwood Tv sports host, Jack Rousseau never let his speech delay get in his way.

In his sophomore year, Jack transferred to Redwood from Saint Ignatius and immediately noticed how special Redwood TV was. After acquiring the role of sports host on the 2017-18 Redwood TV series, Jack realized how much speaking to different students helped him recognize how much the community cares for Redwood.

“In my mind, being able to do my own segments for people’s enjoyment is something I look forward to every week, something that would make the kid on Monday morning have a chuckle before his test. Even though he may be having a bad morning, I can at least try and make him have a better day,” Jack said.  

Redwood TV has allowed Jack to not only meet and interact with new people, but build relations where he is able to get to know people’s different perspectives on life and learn about the sports they love.

Senior Devon Cusack has known Jack for sixteen years, ever since they both were two years old. Cusack is also Jack’s co-host of Redwood TV’s sports segment.

“He always pushed himself and never took [his speech delay] as an excuse. Now he’s even on Redwood TV and proving [that you can do anything you set your mind to] to many. A lot of people who would have a speech problem would have to deal with it for the rest of their life, but Jack was not going to let it influence him. He’s come a long way,” Cusack said.

Cusack also notes that Jack is very outgoing while performing and often takes the reins when the two are interviewing and talking to different students.

“To be able to go from not being able to speak at all to being able to speak to 2,000 people each week is a really big transformation for him. I don’t think anyone could see through him and see he had that problem earlier which is very incredible,” Cusack said.

As his mother, Laura was able to watch Jack grow and develop not only as a speaker, but as a person.

“When he was speech delayed, he was always thinking about things and had a big imagination. The wheels were turning constantly but he just couldn’t get them out. Once he got the skill to push through and communicate, he became more and more articulate as time carried on and was more interested in things. It’s become apparent as he became older and as he’s grown,” Laura said.

Jack decided to write his college essay on his speech delay and how he overcame that period of his life.

“All in all, the attitude I maintain every single day is to never give up. I have my wins and losses, but I am still going to get up in the morning and say that I am going to try and improve in anything I do. Never quit,” Jack said.