~2.5 year old's seemingly perpetual crankiness

My 2 year 4 month old son seems to be very moody, much more so than what I've observed in other toddlers his age. There are times he's in a good mood for sure, but there are many times when he is whining about anything and everything and it doesn't seem to be connected to any clear problem (hunger, sleep, wanting a specific toy and being told "no," etc). I feel nervous to take him out when he's in one of those moods, because nothing seems to please him. But there doesn't seem to be a clear alternative. He can be "off" like this for part of an afternoon, or for a full week or even more at a time. He was a fussy baby also, but his moodiness seems to have gotten worse since turning 2. 

A complicating matter is that he was recently diagnosed as having mild autism and some mild sensory issues. We're not sure whether this irritability is connected to the ASD, or if it's just him, and also, whether having an answer to that question would really help us at all. But it is just so exhausting to feel nervous all the time about what kid we'll get when we take him out somewhere. The rest of the time he really is a delight to be around. I'd say he's in an off mood maybe 20% of the time. 

I'm not sure what I want to know here...is this normal?? If it's not normal, what should we be doing about it? Have you experienced this? Does it get better? Any tips? Looking for solidarity, solutions, words of wisdom, anything. 

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I can't speak to the autism impact but this sounds very very normal for 2 year olds. They are just very erractic creatures and for both of my kids 2.5 to 3.5 years old was a lot of moodiness and crankiness, even when their other needs were taken care of. I did find that was also the age my kids became pickier with food, snacked more, and therefore ended up relying on more carbs, so I tried to add more protein. I also found that one of my two kids was extra sensitive to screen time so cutting that almost totally out made a huge difference (whereas the other one did not seem to react the same so each kid is different!). 

I did find that this book by Louise Bates Ames really helped me better understand developmentally what is going on with their brains although big caveat that this book is a bit old and has some outdated ideas on discipline. One thing it mentions is that they are always moodier with their primary caregiver and it literally suggested spending less time with them. I know that's a privileged suggestion but if you have a partner or options for childcare, take a break!! Their crankiness makes us cranky and less tolerant and it creates a vicious cycle. 

It does get better!! My kids are 4 and 6 now and they still have their moods but it's much more rare and they have better self-regulation and communication.

First off, I want to acknowledge that what you are going through is very hard — even if it is “only” 20% of the time. I hope you can find lots of compassion for yourself. Also, good job getting a diagnosis so early! My son was an irritable kid, hated transitions and very moody — he was hard to get along with in many ways starting as an infant — and we didn’t understand that it was related to autism until he was 13! In our family’s experience, so much of his moody prickliness (and meltdowns) turned out to be a normal reaction for an undiagnosed (& therefore not properly supported) child with ASD trying to cope with neurotypical expectations. 
I recommend getting family support around raising a neurodivergent child asap — I think you will find that once you have that support and can then support your child, everyone will feel a LOT better. 
I found a lot of help with this organization:

https://www.aane.org/
best of luck, and feel free to contact me directly  

Ava

Hi there -- Mostly just wanted to tell you to hang in there. Our son is now 4, and while he doesn't have an ASD, he is probably on the lower end of the "spirited child" spectrum. I've posted here a couple of times out of similar frustration. Between 2.5 and 3.5 in particular there were periods of just crazy-making, rage-inducing episodes where he wouldn't (couldn't?) cooperate. And he is generally an easy-going kid in terms of letting things go, being distractible, liking new experiences (NOT new foods, but that's a different issue). Being in an "off mood" about 20% of the time sounds familiar. At least in our experience, it gets better. There are definitely phases that seem to happen around half birthdays that appear to be pretty normal. The things I would recommend are 1) keep talking to other parents -- it's *so* reassuring, and many have good advice (and totally ignore what doesn't make sense for you!), 2) take care of yourselves so you can stay calm (at least with our kid, the second we get angry in response, it gets immediately worse--if there's less for him to react to, it's not as bad and he calms down faster, and 3) do what you can to prepare and try to redirect or distract when possible (in other words, have snacks, a toy(s) or activity that he can do, be prepared to switch activities or stop and play a game (I Spy or whatever will distract) for a minute or two...whatever you find works with your kid). Oh, for our kid, one thing is definitely making sure he gets enough exercise. Anyway, it will get better! 

Sounds like he’s feeling overwhelmed and just needs more support. All 2 year olds are difficult, but those with autism, in my personal experience, are often next-level! An OT can help you figure out what his triggers are so that he can feel more calm and happy. It’s a journey and you will always be learning more about his nervous system, but I promise you that it WILL get easier.