March 09, 2018 03:18 PM

 

Deborah Roberts and Al Roker spoke out about their 15-year-old son Nicholas‘ struggles for the first time at the 2018 ADAPT Leadership Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on Thursday night, telling PEOPLE exclusively, “He was dealing with some developmental delays.”

“We hope that more people will be open to expressing and maybe sharing that a lot of us are dealing with challenges in life,” ABC News journalist Roberts told PEOPLE. “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.”

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Roberts, 57,  said that after her son was born, “it was pretty apparent that he was facing some challenges, and we weren’t sure what his world and what our future would be.” After she and her Today Show weatherman husband Roker assembled a team of therapsts, though, “we watched him blossom.”

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“We wondered was he going to speak? Was he going to walk? And in no time, he was running and talking more than I thought he would ever do,” she added. “He eventually began to go to school, and to learn, and to read, and to do all those things that we dreamed and hoped he would do even with all his challenges. He began to dream, he became a swimmer, he joined Taekwondo and three years ago, he become a black belt.”

She gushed: “When given the opportunity and the encouragement, and the support, so many of us can just exceed beyond our wildest dreams.”

And Today anchorman Roker, 63, expressed his hope that people can be “more open and accepting of people with these challenges.”

Referencing President Donald Trump, he said, “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.”

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