Rosie O'Donnell has written an essay describing life with her 9-year-old autistic daughter, Dakota, whose diagnosis the Commack native had revealed in 2016.
"Dakota's autism forces me to see the world from a completely different place," the comedian-actor wrote of the youngest of her five children, in a People magazine essay published Wednesday. "She's a gift from another dimension. … 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."
Dakota, O’Donnell wrote, "has always been very cuddly — and loves to curl up beside me on the couch. I thought she was quirky — and beautiful and perfect." The Emmy Award winner described how Dakota "feels things deeply but doesn't always express emotions. We were driving home one night and she said, 'Mommy, there's water on my face.' 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."
Adopted as an infant in 2013 by O'Donnell and the star's then-wife, the late Michelle Rounds, Dakota was diagnosed at age 2 as being on the autistic spectrum. "Getting the diagnosis felt like I was punched in the stomach," O'Donnell recalled. "I had to give myself a moment to go, 'OK, we're going to figure out how to get through it.' " They eventually found "a great school in Los Angeles, and she's now reading at grade level. They have all kinds of neurodivergent kids and special-needs learners. It's a beautiful melting pot."
O'Donnell, who at age 10 lost her own mother to breast cancer, says she worries "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?"
For now, “[I]t's like an angel fell into my life. One who doesn't function by societal standards. I'm not taking away from the pain and hardship that this diagnosis brings to families. 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."
O'Donnell, currently in the Showtime series "American Gigolo," has four other children: adopted sons Parker, 27, and Blake, 22, and adopted daughter Chelsea, 25, and daughter Vivienne, 19, born to O'Donnell's then-partner Kelli Carpenter through artificial insemination.