‘Gift from another dimension’: Rosie O’Donnell opens up about raising autistic daughter Dakota


Rosie O’Donnell has opened up about raising her nine-year-old daughter, Dakota, who has autism.

The 60-year-old artist said people Wednesday that she first became concerned after Dakota was initially diagnosed with autism at age two in 2016.

“I was worried about how he would do in this world,” the American Gigolo star said. “I was worried about my longevity because when you talk to parents of autistic children, their main concern is what will happen when they die. Who will love and understand their child like 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

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 it’s something that will be with her throughout her life and she will learn to adjust to a world that doesn’t necessarily go at her own pace.

The League of Their Own star said raising Dakota helped teach her compassion on a “much deeper” level than she ever had and to “really listen and communicate in a way [she] never had to with [her] other children.’

She added: “I know there are people who are struggling and don’t know how they’re going to make it through another day. And I understand. But the sense of vulnerability that comes with having a child with autism has been a gift to me. She teaches me.

The L Word: Generation Q singer recalled details of her daughter’s early days when she discovered subtle differences.

Rosie and her daughter Dakota were seen taking a selfie earlier this year

Rosie and her daughter Dakota were seen taking a selfie earlier this year

O’Donnell said it was as if an angel had fallen into her life “who was not functioning according to society’s standards.”

“She was always very verbal. Sometimes she stared in such a way that she felt momentarily unattainable. There was a bit of stimulation she was doing with her hands… I thought it was weird – beautiful and perfect. I still knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was.”

O’Donnell noted that she noticed that Dakota did not match her name: “When she was tested [for autism], the doctor kept calling her “Dakota, Dakota.” She didn’t answer. Somewhere deep inside I knew.

The SMILF actress said she felt “punched in the stomach” when doctors told her of Dakota’s autism diagnosis.

“I had to give myself a moment to go, ‘OK, we’ll figure out how to get through this,'” she said. “You can read as much as you can, but they say when you meet an autistic person, you’ve met an autistic person. It’s a spectrum.

O’Donnell said it was as if an angel had fallen into her life “who was not functioning according to society’s standards.”

“I’m not taking away the pain and hardship that this diagnosis brings to families,” The Fosters star said. “All of a sudden there’s a kid with a lot of needs and you spend a lot of time trying to connect on their level. It is not easy – but it is necessary to let them know that they are seen.

“I didn’t want Dakota to be ashamed of her diagnosis. I told her from the beginning that autism was her superpower. I hear her announce 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 on grade level” after the initial struggles of sending her to “a great school in Los Angeles” that teaches “all kinds of neurodivergent kids and special needs students.”

O’Donnell said Dakota “feels things deeply but doesn’t always express emotions,” recalling an anecdote in which the child cried.

“One night we were driving home and she said, ‘Mom, there’s water on my face,'” she said. “I said, ‘These are tears. Are you sad?” and we talked about what the feelings were. I held her and let her cry, reminding her that everyone has feelings.

O’Donnell said Dakota is “reading at grade level now” after the initial struggles of sending her to a “great school in Los Angeles” that teaches “all kinds of neurodivergent kids and special needs students.”

O'Donnell said Dakota's autism is a strength [her] to see the world from a completely different place,

O’Donnell said Dakota’s autism is a strength [her] to see the world from a completely different place,” describing her as a “gift from another dimension”

O’Donnell said she and Dakota reached out to Dakota’s birth mother: “We keep in touch, so Dakota goes on FaceTime and says, ‘Are you the lady I was in?’ I just wanted you to know that I am the child that was there and when I was born my mother held me and I held her puppy and I am with her. So I just want to tell you that this happened to me. Bye.

O’Donnell said both she and the birth mother were “in tears” as “it’s a pretty intense, complicated, emotional thing for a little girl to pull together”.

O’Donnell said she was “filled with anxiety” when her children turned 10, as that was the age she was when her mother died of breast cancer.

“It’s shocking to lose a mother at a young age. Your mother is the center. You need them for everything: training bras, going through puberty. Going through this alone was a scary part of my childhood. You feel very alone. I don’t want Dakota to ever feel that.

O’Donnell said Dakota’s autism is a strength [her] to see the world from a completely different place,” describing her as “a gift from another dimension.”

“Her ability to absorb information is second to none,” she said. “I can imagine him winning Jeopardy! someday. She teaches me. To be able to see the world like her – for me it was an incredibly magical experience. I’m so glad we have each other.”



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