There is a difference in the kind of tantrums Tristan would have and the kind that Anthony, at 19 months old, has. Of course it’s difficult to remember in exact detail what Tristan was like as a toddler, but there are specific instances that come to mind that help to paint the picture. I remember actually saying to people that, when Tristan was two, he “didn’t really throw tantrums,” or that the tantrums he did throw were “different.” They weren’t the stereotypical lying-on-the-floor-crying-kicking-and-beating-arms type tantrums that I’d read about in child development books or parenting magazines. Instead, what Tristan really had, I realize now in hindsight, were perserverative episodes. A truck would go by on our street, and Tristan would completely lose it when it left for good. Or I’d pick him up from preschool and he’d be throwing a tantrum about a rake that was missing from the playground (the teacher explained that it had cracked and they had to throw it out). Or the time my friend, who has a child eight months younger than Tristan, had the idea to come and pick up Tristan and me on her way home from work so we could come over, but Tristan threw a fit when we tried to get him to sit in her car — a different car than he was used to.
Yes, it’s true that all kids have their moments of irrationality, but the thing that made these moments especially difficult with Tristan was that you couldn’t use distraction techniques to get his mind off of whatever was causing the tantrum. In fact, in some cases he could perserverate about something all morning, finally go for his nap, and wake up two or three hours later and immediately start harping in on the same topic again! Even in sleep, his brain would not let go! My friend driving the car that day attempted to talk to Tristan to calm him down, at which point I said, “Just drive.” I knew there was nothing you could say or do that would allay his anxiety — we just had to force the issue until he realized he had no choice in the matter and that, in fact, he had survived. He cried for maybe another 10 minutes, then finally stopped. I remember that episode because it was the first time my friend said, “I see what you mean now — this is different.” I would explain things to people about Tristan’s behavior, but they’d usually underestimate or misinterpret what I was explaining, and say things like, “My child does that too sometimes.” But I knew it wasn’t so cut and dry — I did have three nieces, and was around other kids Tristan’s age at the various playgroups and activities I had him in. I knew he walked to the beat of a different drummer. And though I intuitively knew this, even before his diagnosis, it didn’t really make things easier. Dealing with a child who does not follow the “kid manual” (any of them!) can be very wearing on a parent. It is, as described in that article I posted a while back, like traveling to a country you never intended to visit — and, I might add, you’ve got the wrong language translation book with you!
As for Anthony — he throws tantrums, yes. They are loud and sometimes even long, and once he is in one it can be hard to get him out if it — he just has to work through it. But with more minor tantrums, it is very easy to distract him and focus his attention on something else. If he is getting frustrated about not being able to work a toy, or if he wants something that I won’t let him have, it is easy for me to come up with some other thing to grab his attention. I still am slightly shocked every time I employ this tactic — and it works! Ahhh, I think. THIS is what everyone else was talking about! Yes, toddler tantrums of any kind can take their toll on you. But having experienced the Tristan kind, I will take a typical toddler tantrum any day!