Al Roker Opens Up About Raising His Teenage Son with Special Needs: 'I Admire Him'
Roker, who shares 16-year-old son Nick with wife Deborah Roberts, spoke candidly to Guideposts magazine about raising a child with developmental delays
Al Roker has nothing but pride, love, and admiration for his son.
The Today anchorman, who shares 16-year-old son Nicholas with wife and ABC News senior correspondent Deborah Roberts, recently opened up to Guideposts magazine for their May cover story about raising a child with special needs.
In the article, which was published on Thursday, Roker, 64, explained that Nick is “somewhere on the spectrum and maybe obsessive-compulsive” — a condition that has brought a number of challenges for both Nick and his parents.
Despite those difficulties, Roker said Nick never let his developmental delays get in the way of living his life and doing what he loves, which is an attribute of his son’s that Roker has continuously admired over the years.
“Do I get frustrated with my son sometimes? You bet,” Roker wrote. “But then I remember my dad, how understanding he was. And Deborah reminds me that I have to show my son not only that I love him but that I like him as well. More than that, I admire him.”
Roker explained that he and Roberts, 58, knew Nick was different pretty quickly after he was born on July 18, 2002.
“We knew right from the beginning that he would be up against a whole different set of challenges,” Roker recalled. “He wasn’t developing as fast as he should have, not holding our fingers as tightly, not always meeting our gaze, not as quick to crawl. At three, he hardly talked and could barely walk.”
After getting Nick the help he needed from speech, behavioral and occupational therapists, the Today anchor said his son began to flourish into his own person, whose hobbies now include going to church, tae kwon do, swimming, chess, and basketball.
“Nick is a hard worker; he’s got a great sense of humor; he’s outgoing and a good swimmer; he’s developing a pretty good top-of-the-key basketball shot,” Roker said. “He takes chess lessons a couple times a week, and he does okay. He’s also very affectionate — like his grandfather — and full of love to share.”
At church, Roker said the teen has found “his place in this world” by serving on the worship team and carrying the cross down the aisle at the beginning of every Sunday service.
“It’s not something Deborah or I would have expected… Nick is focused, dignified, reverent, the brass cross shimmering in the candlelight,” Roker explained, making reference to his son’s self-proclaimed “churchgoing guy” responsibilities.
“Last year, he went on a mission trip to Haiti with teens from church, helping out at an orphanage, reading to the kids, playing games with them, doing chores,” Roker recalled. “When we picked him up at the airport, the first thing he said in the car was ‘I can’t wait to go back.'”
In tae kwon do — which Roker was initially hesitant to let him participate in — Nick has since become a black belt after the repetitive drills combined with his OCD turned out to be a major strength for him, according to the Today anchor.
“Nick blossomed, far more than Deborah or I could have ever expected, given his original iffy prognosis,” Roker admitted. “Where his OCD nature can be a drawback in some situations, it was a strength here. And he proved to be very competitive.”
Because of Nick’s drive, involvement, and love for life, Roker said the pride he feels for his son is immeasurable.
“‘You must be proud of your son,’ someone will say. Yes, I am. More than they’ll ever know,” Roker said. “The obstacles in this kid’s way were things that might have tripped up many others. Not Nick, not even with the disabilities he was born with.”
“I can’t begin to take credit for who Nick is and who he might become,” he added. “All sorts of specialists can tell you about limitations for this and that. Nick never got that message.”
Roker and Roberts previously opened up about their son’s developmental delays, telling PEOPLE that they hoped by sharing his story, it would encourage others to be “more open and accepting of people with [similar] challenges.”
“We hope that more people will be open to expressing and maybe sharing that a lot of us are dealing with challenges in life,” Roberts told PEOPLE in March 2018. “There has been a stigma over the years, especially if it’s not an obvious challenge that people know, and I think to be able to share and inspire and to give other people the encouragement, I think that life can be enriched and can be better and can be in some ways richer when you are loving and supporting and dealing with somebody who is dealing with challenges.”
Added Roker, who referenced President Donald Trump: “There’s been a lot of talk about building big, beautiful walls. Well, we have to tear down those walls, tear them down, make them nice.”
In addition to Nick, Roker and Roberts share daughter Leila, 20. Roker also has a daughter Courtney, who was adopted during a previous marriage.