Who Was Max Benson? An Interview with His Mother, Stacia #ShineOnMax6 min read

On Sunday, November 17, 2019, people around the world lit can­dles in honor and remem­brance of Max Benson. The local vigil was pow­erful, but world­wide, the hashtag #ShineOnMax became a uni­fying and pow­erful move­ment to bring the world together in sol­i­darity of valuing autistic lives.

Max was killed after being placed in an illegal prone restraint for nearly two hours at his school. Soon, The Aspergian will cover this story in more detail, but right now the world needs to know Max out­side of “the boy who was killed.”

Max was a boy who lived, a bright, vibrant, loving, curious, hilar­ious, cre­ative, out­going soul whose life had pur­pose and value.

I talked to Stacia Langley, Max’s mom, to get to know Max out­side of the sparse, often-dehumanizing sound­bytes that have punc­tu­ated the news sto­ries about his last days.

The Interview

Me: What was Max’s spe­cial interest? Tell me what Max loved to do.

Stacia: Max’s first love was num­bers. He could do com­pli­cated arith­metic at a very young age. Like 5 digit prob­lems in his head at 4 or 5. He was obsessed with so many things it would take a week to tell you about them.

Me: Why was Max called “the mayor” in your neigh­bor­hood?

Stacia: He was the fun­niest, most ener­getic person I know. He made every­thing so fun. It’s like my whole family is missing its sun now…

Me: What was his humor like? What did he love to laugh about?

Stacia: Fart jokes, like all human beings.… Just kid­ding… although he did. He also loved puns. He liked doing silly dances and being the center of atten­tion.

Me: What do you want people to know about Max?

Stacia: I would like them to know that he was a hero. He enriched my life in ways I cannot fully artic­u­late, but he was like a fiery star. He taught me things I could not have learned from any other person.

He taught me that hap­pi­ness only exists in the moment, and that nature is the only place we really feel at home. He taught me a lot of Yo’ Momma jokes… He taught me how much we love our chil­dren. Most people think they know, as I did, but I can assure you it’s so much more than that.

Orders of mag­ni­tude more.

Me: Was he an Old Soul?

Stacia: I don’t really know. He was a free soul. He expe­ri­enced unadul­ter­ated joy more easily than the rest of us.

His giggle was the best song I ever heard.

At this time, Stacia sent me a video of Max, who was very much alive. It was a window into their home, and it lev­eled my soul. It was like a day in my house. Max was putting on a show. Stacia asked, “What are you wearing,” and Max responds with excep­tion­ally flam­boyant verve, with an impromptu song. “Bad guy pants” was the joyful refrain he kept repeating.

Behind the camera, Stacia laughs heartily. You can hear the love in her laughter. The respect, the joy, the grat­i­tude. In the back­ground, the walls look like my house– the actual walls them­selves are just can­vases for the kids’ crayon cre­ativity. Their lives are– were– filled with whimsy.

Orders of mag­ni­tude more.

Me: Were your walls can­vases?

Stacia: They always are. We had a bath­room like that in my child­hood home, so I just took it a step fur­ther.

Me: Nothing is sacred. My entire home is a canvas.

Stacia: I am making a giant possum statue to put on our roof. We are unapolo­get­i­cally weird & artsy.

Me: What is the possum sym­bolism?

Stacia: I guess I iden­tify with them because people don’t like them because they don’t under­stand them. My grief possum has babies on its back. I sup­pose it is about the weight of moth­er­hood, but it is really just a funny way to freak out my neigh­bors. After that, I am going to do one of Max as some kind of boy king.

Me: I love irrev­er­ence so hard.

Stacia: Humor is the only way to deal with exis­tence, because exis­tence is fairly painful. Laughing > crying, and I con­sider myself an expert in both at this point.

Me: Can you offer some win­ning advice for people who are facing hard­ships and chal­lenges that are bigger than what anyone should ever have to face?

Stacia: I am so glad you asked me that. Bad Guy Pants™ are mag­ical pants that you can put on when you need to be espe­cially brave or awe­some. They are per­fect over big girl (boy, person) panties, unless you have sen­sory issues, in which case they work just as well com­mando. I will be wearing mine at the vigil tomorrow.

Me: What do you want people to be thinking about tomorrow when they light a candle for Max?

Stacia: I think I would like them to try to feel Max’s spirit, because some people might find him, and I think he would love that. But I would also like people to think about a small way they might be able to help make the world a safer place for people like him. He was so good at speaking truth to power, and I think if we follow his lead we can save some lives.

The Vigil & Beyond

Sunday, the International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion, along with many allies and advo­cates, lit can­dles for Max. Click here to read more about the vigil. The vigil has ended, but the hashtag, #ShineOnMax, con­tinues. Autistic people around the world con­tinue to relate sto­ries of when they were abused or restrained in schools.

Parents of autistic chil­dren tell sto­ries of how their chil­dren have been forced into restraints and seclu­sion. People of color know that the risks are even higher for their chil­dren and their adult autistic loved ones as totally harm­less autistic behavior, like stim­ming (rocking back and forth), failure to speak, or atyp­ical eye con­tact is regarded with sus­pi­cion and often met with vio­lence.

Allies and cit­i­zens have called for jour­nal­ists to check their lan­guage. Many arti­cles dis­cussing 13-year-old Max, who was only 5′3″ tall, reported that he was over 6′ tall. They referred to him as “severely autistic” and “vio­lent.” All of these state­ments were ways to jus­tify what hap­pened to Max, who did nothing to deserve being restrained for nearly two hours while a teacher sat on him the entire time.

Hundreds of people responded to media sto­ries in chal­lenge to the ableist lan­guage, calling for the human­iza­tion of Max. The hashtag began to be used on other sto­ries, too.

For Max Benson, for his mother and family, for the autistic com­mu­nity and their loved ones, we are asking the world to put on your #BadGuyPants and con­tinue #ShineOnMax, chal­lenging the dehu­man­izing media cov­erage that seeks to jus­tify and dis­till abuse and death of autistic chil­dren.

We are asking that you con­nect with the autistic com­mu­nity in sol­i­darity by expressing con­do­lences with the hashtag #ShineOnMax.

We ask that you express your sad­ness and grief over what hap­pened to Max and what has hap­pened to many autistic and dis­abled people with the hashtag, #ShineOnMax.

Keep the hashtag alive as a chal­lenge. Refuse to let the media nor­malize prej­u­dice, dehu­man­iza­tion, and ableism against autistic chil­dren and adults. You don’t have to be autistic, you don’t have to have autistic family mem­bers, and you don’t need to be edu­cated about autism to take a stand.

This ges­ture of sol­i­darity is a metaphor of the Light of Max’s life, the good he brought to the world. It’s a good­ness that didn’t end with the abuse he suf­fered, and a sym­bolic ges­ture that we have all acknowl­edged the life of Max and others whose lives ended too soon. It is putting truth to power and pur­posing to make the world safer, kinder, and more human for those who are dif­ferent.

Shine on, Max. Shine on.

Stalk us


  1. We will def­i­nitely light a candle for Max tomorrow and have invited friends and family from all over the world to do the same. Thank you for sharing these mem­o­ries of Max with us. My chil­dren and I loved hearing more about the beau­tiful boy who has lived when we usu­ally just hear about him as the boy who has died.
    It is won­derful to hear more about how loved he was.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much <3

    1. Author

      Thank you so much <3

  2. I already did, now I demo­nize ABA even more

  3. #Avenge the fAllen

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