Al Roker Is the Proud Dad of a Teen on the Autism Spectrum
Most parents feel great pride when they look at their kids’ accomplishments, and Al Roker, host and weatherman of NBC’s “Today Show,” is no exception. On Thursday, Roker wrote a piece for Guideposts — a faith-based publication — highlighting the accomplishments his 17-year-old autistic son Nick has achieved, challenging the limitations specialists had placed on him.
“Let’s be clear about something,” Roker wrote in Guideposts. “All sorts of specialists can tell you about limitations for this and that. Nick never got that message.”
Roker and his wife Deborah Roberts, who is a journalist for ABC, said last year they are committed to fighting the stigma associated with developmental delays. One way they are doing so is by opening up about their personal lives and sharing their son’s achievements. Roker and Roberts often post images of their family on social media, showcasing everyday moments with their son.
According to Roker’s article, Nick showed signs of having a developmental delay from an early age. When Nick was 3 years old, he had trouble with speech and was barely walking. Doctors ran a wide array of tests, including for cerebral palsy. Nick was eventually diagnosed with autism and Roker suspects Nick might also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “But those labels can be frustrating,” Roker wrote. “They don’t begin to describe who Nick really is.”
Roker said at Nick’s insistence, his son began taking tae kwon do lessons — although Roker was not sure his son would master all the movements and coordination required for the sport. However, it was the repetitive martial arts drills that worked for Nick, who worked hard to obtain his black belt.
Once Nick had a black belt, he was ready to move on to other activities, including chess, swimming and basketball. Yet Roker says one of Nick’s greatest interests is his involvement in church.
Roker and Roberts attend St. James Episcopal Church in New York, where Nick is fully included and an active participant on the worship team. Roker said Nick takes his role and responsibilities at church very seriously.
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When Roberts asked her son why church was so important to him, he said, “Mom, I’m a churchgoing guy.” Roker said he does not see this as average teenager behavior. Roker wrote:
If I thought tae kwon do was all about form and purpose, so is this. Lighting the candles, carrying a torch, holding up the Bible for the lesson to be read and marching down the center aisle with the cross, concentrating on that altar. On Sundays he serves the Lord.
While Roker is aware of his son’s challenges, he focuses on the many ways in which Nick excels. It’s a sentiment that most parents may relate to.
Last year, Nick went to Haiti on a church mission trip where he helped at an orphanage. As soon as Roker picked him up, the teen said he could not wait to go back. “I admire him,” Roker wrote.
Roker isn’t the only public figure to share what it is like parenting a child with a disability. Many actors, like Colin Farrell and Caterina Scorsone, have opened up about their experiences and how their kids have challenged the stereotypes and limitations set on them. With their wider platform, these celebrities hope to change people’s perceptions on what it is like to parent a child with a disability.
Image via Creative Commons/Nathan Congleton