Rosie O’Donnell has opened up about raising her nine-year-old daughter Dakota, who has autism.
The 60-year-old entertainer told People Wednesday that she first was concerned after Dakota was initially diagnosed with autism at two-years-old in 2016.
‘I was worried about how she would make it in this world,’ the American Gigolo star said. ‘I worried about my longevity, because as you speak to parents of kids with autism, their main worry is what happens when they die. Who’s going to love their child and understand them the way you do?’
The latest: Rosie O’Donnell, 60, has opened up about raising her nine-year-old daughter Dakota, who has autism. She was seen appearing on Watch What Happens Live earlier this year
O’Donnell, who is mother to children Parker, 27, Chelsea, 25, Blake, 22, and Vivienne, 19, said of Dakota’s autism: ‘I know this is something that will be with her her whole life, and she’ll learn to adjust to a world that doesn’t necessarily go at her own pace.’
The A League of Their Own star said that raising Dakota has helped teach her compassion on a level ‘much deeper’ than she ever had, and ‘to really listen and communicate in a way [she] never had to with [her] other kids.’
She added: ‘I know there are people struggling and they don’t know how they will get through another day. And I understand. But the sense of vulnerability that comes with having a kid with autism has been a gift to me. She teaches me.’
The L Word: Generation Q performer recalled the details about her daughter’s early days where she detected subtle differences.
Rosie and her daughter Dakota were seen in a selfie earlier this year
O’Donnell said it was like an angel fell into her life ‘who doesn’t function by societal standards’
‘She was always highly verbal. Sometimes she would stare off in a way that she felt unreachable for a moment. She had a little bit of stimming she was doing with her hands … I thought she was quirky – and beautiful and perfect. Still, I knew something was off, but I wasn’t sure what it was.’
O’Donnell noted that she noticed that Dakota didn’t answer to her name: ‘When she was being tested [for autism], the doctor kept calling out to her “Dakota, Dakota.” She didn’t respond. Somewhere deep down I knew.’
The SMILF actress said she felt like she ‘was punched in the stomach’ when doctors told her of Dakota’s autism diagnosis.
‘I had to give myself a moment to go, “Okay, we’re going to figure out how to get through it,”‘ she said. ‘You can read as much as possible, but they say when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. It’s a spectrum.’
O’Donnell said it was like an angel fell into her life ‘who doesn’t function by societal standards.’
‘I’m not taking away from the pain and hardship that this diagnosis brings to families,’ The Fosters star said. ‘All of a sudden, there’s a child with a lot of needs and you spend a lot of time trying to connect on their level. It’s not easy – but it’s necessary to let them know they are seen.
‘I didn’t want Dakota to feel shame about her diagnosis. I have told her from the start that autism is her superpower. I hear her announcing to strangers, “My name is Dakota. I’m nine and I have allergies and autism.” It’s like a different operating system.’
O’Donnell said Dakota is ‘now reading at grade level’ after initial struggles, when she sent her to ‘a great school in Los Angeles’ that teaches ‘all kinds of neurodivergent kids and special-needs learners.’
O’Donnell said Dakota ‘feels things deeply but doesn’t always express emotions,’ recalling an anecdote in which the child was crying.
‘We were driving home one night and she said, “Mommy, there’s water on my face,”‘ she said. ‘I said, “Those are tears. Are you sad?” and we talked about what feelings were. I held her and let her cry, reminding her everyone has feelings.’
O’Donnell said Dakota is ‘now reading at grade level’ after initial struggles, when she sent her to ‘a great school in Los Angeles’ that teaches ‘all kinds of neurodivergent kids and special-needs learners’
O’Donnell said Dakota’s ‘autism forces [her] to see the world from a completely different place,’ describing her as ‘a gift from another dimension’
O’Donnell said that she and Dakota have been in touch with Dakota’s birth mother: ‘We’re in contact, so Dakota gets on FaceTime and says, “Are you the lady whose tummy I was in? I just wanted you to know I’m the kid that was in there, and when I got born, my mommy held me and I squeezed her pinkie, and I am with her. So I just want to let you know that’s what happened to me. Bye.”‘
O’Donnell said both she and the birth mother were ‘in tears,’ as ‘that’s a pretty intense, complex, emotional thing for a little girl to put together.’
O’Donnell said that she has been ‘fraught with anxiety’ when her children turn 10, as that’s the age she was at when her mother died of breast cancer.
‘It’s a shocking thing to lose a mother at a young age. Your mom is the center. You need them for everything: training bras, transitioning into puberty. Going through that on my own was a scary part of my childhood. You feel very alone. I don’t ever want Dakota to feel that.’
O’Donnell said Dakota’s ‘autism forces [her] to see the world from a completely different place,’ describing her as ‘a gift from another dimension.’
‘Her ability to absorb information is unparalleled,’ she said. ‘I can imagine her winning on Jeopardy! someday. She teaches me. To be able to see the world as she does – for me, it’s been a wonderfully magical experience. I’m so glad we have each other.’