Forever Boy by Kate Swenson

I ordered Forever Boy as soon as I heard it was being published and read it within 24 hours of Amazon delivering it to my doorstep. Mind you, this is the first book I have given myself permission to read in quite a long time. The boys require so much of my attention during the day and I am usually exhausted by the time they are asleep.

In Forever Boy, Kate describes the journey her family has been on. Her son was diagnosed with Severe Nonverbal Autism. My boys both also have an Autism diagnosis; however, all three boys are very different. What I loved about Forever Boy is that it spoke straight to my Mama heart. Our boys may different, they have different struggles and our day to day looks completely different, but the words she wrote still rang true.

I ended up reading much of the book aloud to my husband through tears (just to be clear, Harry Potter can make me cry these days!) Each time he would comment “You’ve said that exact same thing a million times” or “Wow, that sounds familiar.” This is what makes Forever Boy so moving. It’s relatable, no matter where the child is on the spectrum.

I appreciate Kate’s honesty. She is real about how her son’s diagnosis has affected her marriage, her family relationships, her friendships, and her emotions. She talks about BOTH the joys and the struggles of life with Autism. The world tells us Autism Mamas that we need to be joyful about our kids’ diagnosis. Kate shares how she came to find joy, but doesn’t shy away from the stuff that we aren’t supposed to talk about.

Within her pages, Kate gives you permission to be real, to worry, celebrate, cry, or get angry, when the world says you need to smile and pretend like everything is wonderful. Goodness knows I have felt all of those things, sometimes within a few minutes of each other. In the last chapter, Kate talks about grief and allowing yourself to feel it. I firmly believe that in order to move forward, you must allow yourself to process these feelings. Toxic positivity isn’t helpful to anyone. Kate urges us to be the person we needed in the beginning.

If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, you should read this book. You are not alone. If you are an extended family member of a child on the spectrum, you should read this book. It will help you understand what your loved ones live. If you work with a child on the spectrum, you should read this book. It will help you better understand the families you support. If you are a human, you should read this book. It will help you gain new perspective and be a kinder, more understanding person.

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Puzzles, Puzzles, Puzzles

Puzzles are a staple at our house. Monkey LOVES puzzle, they give him an outlet to calm himself down when he gets angry, and they help him focus when he needs to listen. Lately, we’ve noticed that he will work on a puzzle during our morning read aloud time. It seems to help him keep his body calm and give his hands something to do so he can focus on my words. It’s a great great strategy for him.

I was excited when we were asked by Genius Games if we would review their Dr. Livingston Jr. Anatomy Puzzles. Being only 100 pieces, I was a little concerned that Monkey would find them to be too easy. He is, after all, known to be found working on a 300-500 piece puzzle with zero difficulty. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 3 floor puzzles in the Bundle have become some of his favorites. He cannot start his morning until he has completed all 3 puzzles and begs me to keep reading until he has finished.

These puzzles are quick enough to make an excellent warm-up activity for our school day but still challenging enough to hold his interest. Of course the quality is exactly what you would expect from Dr. Livingston Puzzles (see our previous review of the Dr. Livingston’s Anatomy puzzles). I LOVE the matte finish that removes the annoying glare you get from other puzzles. The pieces are nice and thick, great for small hands. He’s easily done these puzzles over and over again since receiving them and they still look great! The Bundle includes the Heart, Brain, and Full-Body Puzzles. Each box is made of high-quality and includes an anatomy guide that allows the children to learn the different parts of the body as they build.

If you’d like to try them out yourself, you can receive 20% off using the coupon code KIDSPUZZLES!

Disclaimer: Genius Games provided me with a free copy of the Dr. Livingston Jr. Puzzles in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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Just Be Kind

I wanted to take a moment and share something that happened last week…

But first, I want to start by saying that I know how lucky I am.

My boys are Autistic. Chances are you know someone who is Autistic. The current rate of Autism is 1 in 44. Think about that. 1 in 44. I heard last week that, due to teacher shortages, our local elementary schools will have 40 kids to a classroom. That means, statistically, there will be one child with Autism in every classroom. I was reading an estimate that by 2025 the rate will be 1 in 2. That is still sinking in.

Why am I lucky? Chances are when you think about what you know about Autism, whether that be from stereotype or personal experience, what you picture isn’t pleasant. You might picture stimming or objects being lined up. You might picture kids who can’t speak. You might picture a child having a meltdown. You might go a different direction altogether and picture a brilliantly artistic child, the math genius or musical savant. But, let’s be honest, most people don’t picture the pleasant side of Autism. They picture what they’ve seen, the public meltdowns. This is where I consider myself lucky, if that is even the right term. My boys don’t tend to have public meltdowns.

Don’t get me wrong, they have their meltdowns. Boy, do they! They just tend to hold it together long enough to have them at home, geared toward us. In a place where they feel safe and are with their people. I consider this lucky because I typically don’t have to deal with the world watching our absolute worst moments.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Those who see Monkey get mad and take a swing at mom, they don’t see a child with Autism. They see a little boy not getting his way and behaving badly. People see Mr. Man stimming, something he seems to be doing more and more as he gets older, and they don’t understand what he’s doing. It looks strange, if you aren’t use to it. I get it.

To put it simply, most people don’t know how to respond or interact. I get that. Funny thing is, that not knowing how to respond or interact is EXACTLY what my boys struggle with in every single situation. Most people will try not to make eye contact or avoid us. I get it, it’s fine. I honestly prefer those who ignore us to those with the made-up PHDs that try to bestow us with their genius advice.

He just needs a hug (Um….sure if I want to get punched in the face.)

Really, he needs consistent discipline (Oh, they have PLENTY of that. Consistency is our life!)

He really needs less screen time (I am sure he does, but sometimes I just need to get something accomplished without a fist going through a wall. I guarantee he has less screen time than you think).

All this to say, we all know Autism can be hard, we’ve gotten use to the stares, we’ve heard the mean and unnecessary comments.

But back to last week…

We were at church. There has been a change to the teachers in the boys’ class. A necessary change, an understandable change, but all change is hard. Monkey was struggling with the change and seeking comfort. In that situation comfort was his brother. Mr. Man didn’t want anything to do with his little brother in that situation and they began to fight. We have been working really hard to get Monkey to understand that if he is getting frustrated with a situation, he can walk away. We clearly need to go back and clarify that because he walked out of class and came to find me. He crossed in front of a woman sitting near us to get to me. Later, after calming him down, I took him back to class. About 10 minutes later, I see one of the teachers walk in. Knowing she was there for me, I get up to leave and catch the woman’s eye as I walk past. Monkey is clearly not able to stay in class and we walk the campus for awhile, stomping on ants (great for anger) and chasing birds.

Eventually, we end up sitting back in service. Headphones in place, I thought we’d be fine… it’s always fine. Until it wasn’t. Monkey decided he wanted my phone. He’s been using it to type to me when he is too upset to talk. I got a lot of angry emoji’s and a few bad words. Then, he decided he was going to play a game. Not wanting to set the precedent of leaving class to play on my phone, I quietly told him no and took my phone. Wrong choice. You see, telling Monkey no isn’t allowed.

I spent the rest of the service keeping him quiet as he either flailed on the floor (a moment in which I wondered to myself at exactly what point in life I had given up on the idea that the floor is dirty) or repeatedly bit my arms. Again, eye contact with the woman nearby. This time, I was the one to quickly look away as I attempted to hold back my own frustration and tears. Church ended and we exited, post haste. I handed Monkey over to my husband so that I could use the restroom, knowing I wouldn’t get another chance until we were all safely home and calm.

As I left the restroom, something happened that I haven’t had happen in ten years of being an Autism parent. The woman who I know was watching the whole episode walked up to me and gave me a big hug. She said these words, which I will never forget, “I don’t understand. I don’t. But I see you, and you are doing great.” Full of frustration and covered in bite marks, I let the tears fall.

I have heard the rude comments, the mean comments, the comments that come from people who can’t understand. But NEVER has someone told me, I don’t understand but I see you and you’re doing great.

Being an Autism parent is isolating. Most of the time we prefer NOT to be seen, because the world isn’t kind. But knowing, in our lowest moments, that we ARE seen and that somebody understands that we are trying our best, even if they don’t understand the situation. That is a priceless feeling.

For those who are uncomfortable with how to respond to us when our kids are having a hard time. Just see us, just now we really are doing so much more than you see, but above all… just be kind. It does so much more than any advice ever will. Just be kind.

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Another Season

Autism… again.

Here I leave yet another doctors office after hearing those same words, different child. 

I can honestly say I was simultaneously not at all surprised and still shocked. I mean, I couldn’t  live in our house for the last 4 years and not have seen that coming, but I didn’t think it would come so fast. Sure, I had spent months on the paperwork side trying to get things done. Trying to find a way to help Monkey with his anger before something major happened. But spoken into the world in such a passing and casual way…

I didn’t know what to think.

Sure, I saw the similarities. But they are also SO different. Night and day different. But then isn’t that how it always is? One is sensory avoidant and the other is sensory seeking. One struggles with academics and the other is scary quick. One struggles with anxiety and the other one is so ADHD that I am tired. (That actually came as a side note, ‘Oh, and we are definitely dealing with ADHD, too.’ 😒 You think?) I know the school Psychologist said it last year, but I don’t think I really believed him. I honestly didn’t expect the Psychiatrist to agree so easily.

I didn’t know how to feel.

I could circle back to the millions of questions, but I have already spent too much time there. 

It doesn’t change anything. He’s still the absolute funniest kid I know. He has the absolute best smile. He is the protector, the ‘Dragon Chaser’. The keeper of the time. 

He can also be the angriest kid I have ever met. That is why we started down this path. No child should be that angry. But how do we help him tame that anger?

No, nothing has changed. But perhaps now we can move forward. Have more laughter and smiles than screaming and tears. 

That is my hope for my our future. But, I am pretty sure we are going to need more coffee first.

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Mystery Mosaics

We have been working on building a toolbox of independent learning activities that Monkey can work on in the afternoons while I work. We were excited to try Timberdoodle’s Mystery Mosaic book 9. The boys both love tiled color by numbers (as opposed to traditional color by numbers) so much that we print excessive amounts from the internet. I figured the Mystery Mosaic books would be a perfect addition to our afternoon choices. However, the squares on the book are very small, as are the numbers. This overwhelmed the boys and they refused to even try. The book is labeled for 6+, so we assumed it would be fine for our 7 and 9 year olds. I definitely feel these books are more suitable for older students and adults. It would also be difficult for someone who struggles with their vision, as the numbers are very small and rather light.

Even though the boys refused to work on this activity, they did enjoy watching Mama complete her mosaic. Mr. Man kept saying, “Wow, that is SO beautiful!” After seeing me finish mine, which one of the children quickly confiscated, I think I would be able to get them to make an attempt with much coaxing. Though I doubt Monkey would have the patience to stick with the process in order to complete the entire picture. They are very detailed.

I used Faber-Castell pencils to complete my mosaic. You can go take a look at my review on those. For the Mystery Mosaics, I would keep in mind that a lot of shades are used, so your typical box of 12 pencils is not going to work. You will need something with a larger spectrum of shades. I saw that Mindware has a set of pencils, created specifically for their Mosaic books, where the pencils are numbered to match the numbers on the designs. I think this would be quite helpful. The picture I did used 21 different numbers. Keeping track of which pencil was used for each number got a bit tricky.

Overall, Mama enjoyed Mystery Mosaics, but they were too overwhelming for my guys. I would definitely reserve these for older children. Other than the age concern, these books are great! High quality and nicely done.

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a discounted copy of Mystery Mosaics book 9 in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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Faber-Castell Classic Color Pencil Tin

We recently had the opportunity to review Timberdoodle’s 48ct Classic Color Pencil & Sketching Tin. Our boys love their colored pencils. They will choose to use pencils over crayons or markers every time. I keep hearing how great these pencils are, so we had to put them to the test.


*The tin comes with a nice assortment of colors, including several different shades of each.

*The pencils shade nicely for more advanced artists using more complex drawing techniques.

*The eraser that comes with the set works very well. I was quite impressed with its ability to erase the colored pencils (even though it says its specifically for erasing blacklead pencils).

*They don’t constantly break like other brands. Even after sharpening. This was very refreshing!


*I feel that for pencils, the price point ($37, for a tin of 48) is a bit high for our family.

*They seemed to shrink faster than other pencils when sharpened.

Overall, the price point is really hard for me to get past. While these pencils are nice, even better than the top choice in classroom art supplies, would I pay this much for pencils for a 2nd and 4th grader? Not likely. However, if I was someone who sketched more or had an older child who was highly interested in art and learning various techniques, I would probably invest in this set.

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a discounted Faber-Castell 48ct Classic Color Pencil & Sketching Tin Set in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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Dr. Livingston’s Anatomy Puzzle Review: The Human Head

Monkey has been a bit pre-occupied with puzzles this year. By pre-occupied, I mean completely obsessed. It’s not uncommon to see several puzzles in various stages of completion throughout our house. So, when we had the opportunity to review Dr. Livingston’s Anatomy Puzzle: The Human Head, we were beyond excited. Even though this 538 piece puzzle has an age recommendation of 14+ and is included as part of Timberdoodle’s 6th Grade Curriculum Kit, we knew it would be perfect for our 7-year-old self-proclaimed human body expert. Knowing your child is an important part of choosing curriculum and activities. While I think the age recommendation is generally fairly accurate, I also knew my son was confident in doing 500 piece puzzles, so this wouldn’t be too far off for him. He loved it! Monkey is still asking when we can get the other 6 puzzles in the set to finish the entire body.

What we loved about it…

*The pieces fit together in an obvious way and there was no confusion ‘Does this fit here, does it not?’ that we have seen in other puzzles.

*The box is great, as well. It is simply beautiful. It is made to look like a book which is gorgeous to display when the puzzle is being stored. It shows wonderful details of the human head and labels each part.

*I love the matte finish of this puzzle. There is zero glare when working on it, which is great!

What wasn’t great…

*Some of the edges were lifting right out of the box and will require a dab of glue to keep from tearing. This is a bit disappointing.

*Due to the nature of the edge shape, not all of the outside edge interlocks immediately. This causes some movement and sliding before these parts are anchored in and this was very frustrating for Monkey. He needed some help keeping everything line up. Once enough of the inside of the puzzle was completed to attach it all, he was fine.

Overall thoughts…

We loved this puzzle and found the benefits far outweighed the few negatives. Especially, the lack of glare. Why aren’t all puzzles like this?! Hearing my 7-year-old tell me all the parts of the eye and point out the cerebellum (He even told us what it controls- no idea were he got that from…and yes, Mama had to look it up!) was priceless. We definitely can’t wait to get the other Dr. Livingston Puzzles.

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a free copy of Dr. Livingston’s Anatomy Puzzle in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.


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Clumsy Thief Junior

A big thank you to Timberdoodle for giving us the opportunity to review Clumsy Thief Junior. The fast paced card game perfect for children learning their tens facts. Clumsy Thief Junior is currently a part of Timberdoodle’s Kindergarten Curriculum Kit.


This card game consists of two phases. In the first phase, players match pairs of numbers from their hands to make sets of ten, which they then place face up in their playing field. Cards that make tens (9s and 1s, 8s and 2s, etc.) have matching fruit or vegetable pictures on them. The pictures help children who have not yet mastered the tens family and the repetition of seeing the numbers together will help them memorize these facts. During phase two, the rest of the number cards a player has in his/her hands can be placed on piles in the playing field, continuing to make tens. For example, if a 9 and 1 are played with the 9 on top, you may add a 1 to steal the pile. But watch out! Someone else can then add a 9 to steal the pile again. There are also raccoon cards that can be used to steal any pile and trap cards which can be played on raccoons to freeze the pile and stop any further stealing of that pile. Phase two is fast paced because everyone plays at the same time. You have to be quick. Play rotates between phases one and two several times over the coarse of the game. The player with the most number cards in front of them when the cards run out is the winner.

What the Beans thought:

Both Monkey and Mr. Man know their tens facts well, so we didn’t play the game in an attempt to teach this skill. However, they both still really enjoyed the game. Mr. Man was a pro at being ready to steal back any pile someone tried to take from him. He struggled a bit to remember which phase we were on and required some reminders in that regard. But, the more he played, the easier this became. Due to his processing delays, fast paced games are more challenging for him, but he did very well with this one. Monkey is currently struggling with competitive fast paced games as he’s at an emotional stage where he becomes very upset with any game he doesn’t win. Because brother is able to match wits with him on this game, he currently “hates it”. On the plus side, this creates the perfect scenario to help him work through these emotions, build his coping skills and practice proper social and emotional responses. Clumsy Thief Junior will make a perfect addition to the games we can use during therapy. It has definitely been one of the top choices in the house lately.

Something to note…

*When playing Clumsy Thief Junior, it is important to be mindful of table size. We have a large gaming table and found reaching across the table to steal piles of cards difficult. It would be much better played on a smaller table or closer together.

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a free copy of Clumsy Thief Junior in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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The Beans Review Battle Sheep

If you know our family very well, you know we are big board gamers. Board games are an excellent way to learn a variety of skills, both academic and social. Mr. Bean has had his hand in the creation of a couple games and has a sizable collection himself. So, we were very excited when Timberdoodle gave us the opportunity to review Battle Sheep.

Battle Sheep is a fun strategy game found at Timberdoodle and is part of their 3rd Grade Curriculum Kit. My husband and I were immediately struck by the quality of the game components- very important to Mr. Bean (The Eclectic Bean) The board pieces are made of thick, durable cardboard and the sheep discs are a nice quality plastic chip. The idea of the game is to move your sheep across the board to claim pasture space. The player with the most pasture when everyone is out of moves (either because their sheep have been blocked in or because they are out of sheep) is the winner.

It was interesting to see the different responses we got when we played with Mr. Man (9) and Monkey (7). Mr. Man struggled at first to move his sheep in a straight line and needed a little guidance. He is also not a strategy game player. He struggles with processing and executive function, so he’s typically a reactive player. I was surprised to watch his persistence and perseverance shine through when playing Battle Sheep. He really enjoyed it and beat both Mr. Bean and myself! He has asked to play again, several times. Monkey is our thinker and planner. However, the game takes a few plays to figure out a strategy. Monkey did not win his first game (score: 12 to 14) and became upset, refusing to try again. I would have definitely thought this game would be more appealing to Monkey than Mr. Man, so i was surprised to find the opposite to be true. Hopefully, in time, Monkey will give it another try. Mr. Bean and I have also played a few times by ourselves and both found it to be a game we would continue to play.

Overall, 3 out of 4 Beans give Battle Sheep a big thumbs up. Because the board is different every game, Battle Sheep has high replayability. Also, any game that can be played with the kids but also enjoyed by adults alone is a great addition to any game collection. Be sure to check out Battle Sheep. Happy Gaming!

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a free copy of Battle Sheep in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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Dr. Bonyfide: A Timberdoodle Review

We recently had the opportunity to review Timberdoodle’s Dr. Bonyfide presents Bones. This is a set of 4 books that teach your child the names of all the bones in the body. We are about halfway through Book 1: Bones of the Hand, Arm and Shoulder. This book has quickly become Monkey’s favorite science curriculum. He loves it! I never have any push-back when it is time for Dr. Bonyfide… that speaks volumes!

The entire family has shown interest in these books and have sat in for lessons as schedules align. In fact, I will probably go through them with Mr. Man as a summer activity. The books are engaging and fun. After only a few weeks, Monkey can confidently tell you the names of (and how many) phalanges in each hand. He WILL correct anyone who calls them fingers.

Monkey enjoys the idea that we share a special science language. He is now learning the names of the carpals. My 6 year old can independently spell Scaphoid. I love it! The activities in the book are repetitive enough to make the information memorable, but varied so they don’t become boring. Monkey loves the Mr. Bonyfide x-ray glasses and is always eager to use them to read the skeleton jokes.

Overall, these books are nicely put together and I am eager to work our way through the rest of the titles. They are fun and, most of all, he’s actually remembering the names of the bones. This set is definitely a winner in our home. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about the skeleton and the names of the bones.

Disclaimer: Timberdoodle provided me with a free copy of the Dr. Bonyfide Presents Bones book set in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no further compensation.

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