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Al Roker shares son Nick's journey growing up with special needs

Al wrote about parenting his son, Nick, 16, who grew up with developmental delays, and his admiration for the person Nick has become.
/ Source: TODAY

Al Roker has proudly watched his son with special needs grow from a boy struggling to talk and walk as a toddler into a black belt in taekwondo and an integral member of the family's church as a teen.

Raising Nick, 16, has had its challenges for the TODAY meteorologist and his wife, ABC News senior correspondent Deborah Roberts, but it's also been filled with plenty of joy. Al opened up about their journey in a cover story for the May issue of Guideposts magazine.

"Do I get frustrated with my son sometimes? You bet,'' Al wrote in a personal essay. "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."

Nick, who is the youngest of Al's three children, is "somewhere on the (autism) spectrum and maybe obsessive-compulsive,'' Al wrote.

"But those labels can be frustrating; they don’t begin to describe who Nick really is,'' he added.

Al Roker with his son.
Al Roker has opened up to Guideposts magazine about parenting his son, Nick, 17, who has special needs. Guideposts Magazine

Al, who admitted he was "hesitant" to write the story, expanded on his essay on the 3rd hour of TODAY Monday with a surprising revelation.

"I realize if I was coming up today, I probably would be considered on the spectrum,'' he said. "I see many of the things in my son in me. Maybe a part of that is I feel a little guilty about that."

He believes his wife's positive outlook has played a crucial role in his son's ability to overcome challenges in his life.

"To be honest, I credit Deborah with a lot of this, because sometimes I tend to go to a dark place about it,'' he said on TODAY.

Nick has become particularly involved with St. James Episcopal Church in Manhattan, where he is the principal cross bearer as part of the worship team.

Al Roker Guideposts Mag
Al shares his story of raising Nick in the May issue of Guideposts. Guideposts

Al was admittedly skeptical of signing Nick up for taekwondo as a kid at Nick's insistence, but then watched him blossom when he began his training.

"In (taekwondo), you have to master systematic sequences of moves to progress to the next level,'' Al wrote. "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."

Al also watched as St. James became another important place for Nick to carve out an identity.

"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,'' he wrote. "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."

Al and Deborah have also credited the amazing efforts of therapist Lori Rothman, who has worked with Nick since he was 3, for helping him achieve so much.

Raising Nick has also spurred Al and his wife to call on others to be more open and accepting of children with special needs, which they spoke about at last year's Adapt Leadership Awards Gala.

As Al watches the focus and reverence Nick displays in his duties at St. James, he sees a son who has come so far since his struggles as a little boy.

"'You must be proud of your son,' someone will say. Yes, I am. More than they’ll ever know,'' Al wrote. "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."