After more than 20 years, Al Roker has become a valuable mainstay of the Today Show, serving as co-anchor, weatherman, and feature reporter on the morning news program. As a longtime public figure, Al Roker has become more than a familiar face, and he recently opened up about the love and pride he had for his teen-aged son Nick, and his struggles with growing up with developmental delays.
After joining the Today Show in 1996, Roker’s warm rapport with his co-hosts easily made him a favorite among fans. Now part of the early morning rituals of millions people, Roker opened up about his son Nick to help bring wider acceptance to living with people with special needs.
The veteran newsman shares son Nick, 17, and daughter Leila, 20, with ABC News senior correspondent Deborah Roberts. He also has Courtney, a daughter adopted during a previous marriage. Roker is full of love and admiration for Nick, who, despite challenges as a child with developmental delays, has grown into a young man with a black belt in taekwondo and is an integral member of the family’s church.
Roker recalled that the family knew right away their son was different. “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.”
Doctors found Nick to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, with obsessive-compulsive disorder. With the support of his family and the help of speech, development, and occupational therapists, Nick was able to develop the skills he needed to live with developmental delays.
His parents also enrolled him as young child in taekwondo classes and Sunday school. Nick had insisted on signing up for taekwondo, and Roker was skeptical at first. He then watched as Nick blossomed through training. Roker said, “In (taekwondo), you have to master systematic sequences of moves to progress to the next level. Turned out that all those repetitive drills were just the thing for Nick. Where his OCD nature can be a drawback in some situations, it was a strength here. And he proved to be very competitive.”
Nick also flourished at the St. James Episcopal Church in Manhattan, where he is the principal cross bearer as part of the worship team. Roker said that despite dealing with developmental delays, Nick has been able to carve out an identity at the church.
“On Sundays when I was feeling really down about Nick — wondering where our son would find his place in this world — I found it a comfort to note that some of the acolytes also had special needs. One performed his duties in a wheelchair; another had Down syndrome. Nick watched and wanted to join them. And the folks who oversaw the acolytes were happy to have him.”
Now nearing the end of his teen years, Nick has grown beyond the limitations of his prognosis. “Those labels can be frustrating; they don’t begin to describe who Nick really is,” Roker remarked. “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. He’s also very affectionate — like his grandfather and full of love to share.”
Roker added, “Do I get frustrated with my son sometimes? You bet. 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 largely credits his wife’s love and positivity for their son’s ability to manage living with developmental delays. “To be honest, I credit Deborah with a lot of this, because sometimes I tend to go to a dark place about it.” The loving parents also believe that their son’s skills are also due to the efforts of Nick’s therapist Lori Rothman, who has worked with Nick since he was three years old.
The difficulties and joys of raising Nick spurred Roker and Roberts to share their story, in the hopes of creating more understanding and acceptance of people with developmental delays. Roker also revealed, “I realize if I was coming up today, I probably would be considered on the spectrum. I see many of the things in my son in me. Maybe a part of that is I feel a little guilty about that.”
Growing up into a man with drive, dedication, and love for life, Roker has nothing but pride for Nick. He said, “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.” Roker and Roberts hope that speaking about Nick can help break down any stigmas and help ,families support loved ones with special needs.