The Next Level

By Jeff Stimpson

“Level I Assessment” reads the document they slide across the table at Alex’s IEP. It claims to be a “student interview,” and has spaces for his name, birthday, age, and today’s date. He had filled them all in with a pencil with numerals and letters that grew as he wrote left to right. The “son” of “Stimpson,” for instance, is twice the size of the “A,” the “98” is twice the size of the “6” for his birthday. You get the idea. I also have to think someone in his school helped him on the questions, but at this point I do hope that means they didn’t actually have to hold his hand that was holding the pencil. 

The assessment consists of 12 multiple-choice questions for my son Alex about his life and activities. Each question and selection of answers comes with assorted square-inch pictures I sort of remember from standardized tests I took in first grade.I’m not a big fan of standardized tests, and one reason is that one of the pictures on my first-grade test was of a squirrel, and that made me teary because we had a cute squirrel living in our backyard at the time and I wasn’t used to being in school for a full day. Hard times.

“What would you like to do when you leave school?” Alex is almost 14 and still watches Teletubbies, so this one chilled my spine right off until I realized they were just asking about dismissal at the day’s end. Alex checked “Home.” In response to “What do you like to do?”Alex checked “Music,” which I think must take a distant third to “Computer” and “Television” but does place several laps ahead of “Cleaning – Work.”

“What do you do when you go home?” 

“Listen to music.” Again with this? But yes, there is music in Teletubbies

“What do you not like to do?” Alex checked “Computer,” which brought to mind the beaten expression on his face a few years ago when he tackled and failed an IQ test. Wish he’d checked “Friends.”

“What jobs are you interested in?” He checked “Delivery of materials,” which coincides with what his teachers have reported and does offer a legit job possibility. 

“What is your favorite part of the school day?” 

“”Reading.” Great! The picture for “Reading” resembles Kilroy reading a book. 

Is there something you’d like to do before you graduate?” Alex checked “Trips.” For Alex I would’ve checked “Win Mega Millions.”

“Would you like to visit a possible program before you graduate?” 


A teacher asked me once if I was worried what would happen to my son when he graduates. 
“No,” I replied. “I’m worried about what happens to my son when he’s 40.”
I’ve seen those programs. People like Alex being sheparded into lines to head to something fun to do on a typical day. A movie. An amusement park. A walk through a New York neighborhood where people glance at Alex with a surprising amount of understanding. The future for my son after graduation and a possible program includes the charity of others. I only hope that unlike the budgets that charity never runs out.

Jeff Stimpson lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”  

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