An Update on the Identity of my Thesis – Part 3

When my advisor and I met last week, I shared what I had written.  He pointed out rightly that it was good and consistent until I got to the Theory of Mind part.

A few minutes in, I said something that reminded him of something that he had studied in his graduate program: Bruno Latour’s idea of Black-boxes.  It is taken from the fields of “science, computing, and engineering” and it basically means that we put something into something into something (perhaps a computer) and it comes out different than how we originally put it in.  Latour claims that only the input and the output matter, so we don’t question how the Black-Box works or why it came out different, not to mention if it should come out different.  He then situates this concept within rhetoric by claiming that these Black-Boxes are a single frame for looking at something.

As soon as my advisor read that part, I immediately saw a connection between these Black-Boxes and Burke’s Terministic Screens.  Burke’s Terministic Screens says that the words we use to communicate, and subsequently think, influence how we see things.  For example, if we are surrounded by a culture that says that autism is a terrible thing (they use terms like “afflicted” and “suffering from”), then that will influence how we think about autism.

So, we found an image on the Wikipedia page that looked like a cat and whiskers  plot where the blackbox was in between the input and the output.  We started working on putting Autism Speaks into the model.  We came up with the following (You can see the full-sized image if you click on the image because it is sort of small here).

There are 5 Blackboxes with lines coming out on both sides lined vertically on the page. The input is on the left side, the terministic screen is in the middle, and the output is on the right side. The top Blackbox's input is
There are 5 Blackboxes with lines coming out on both sides lined vertically on the page. The input is on the left side, the terministic screen is in the middle, and the output is on the right side. The top Blackbox’s input is “Different way of being,” the terministic screen is “Ableism,” and the output is Capital-O “Otherness.” The Blackbox second from the top’s input is Capital-O “Other,” the terministic screen is “Ableistic Science,” and the output is “Theory of Mind.” The Blackbox in the middle’s input is “Theory of Mind,” the terministic screen is “Ableistic Science,” and the output is “Autism.” The Blackbox second from the bottom’s input is “Autism,” the terministic screen is “Ableistic Science,” and the output is “Autism Speaks.” The Blackbox on the bottom’s input is “Autism Speaks,” the terministic screen is quotation marks surrounding “Autism Speaks,” and the output is advocacy.

Basically, I was able to start at Autism Speaks and trace their ideology back to the genesis, if you will.  Autism Speaks exists because of the terministic screen influences people’s perspective on autism.  The same is true for all the others.

However, one thing that I am thinking as I write this is: what if it is just science?  But it doesn’t necessarily matter because its all based on that first one where a different way of being in the world is viewed from the terministic screen of ableism thereby turning it into Capital-O Other.  Therefore, I could just say that science is the terministic screen within the middle three Black-Boxes, but I could still make the argument that it is ableistic science.  One thing that I really like that I’m not sure how I will do is Autism Speaks (AS) has the same abbreviation as Ableistic Science (AS).  I may not use it at all, but I think it would be fun to add it in somehow.  Maybe A$ for Autism Speaks and AS for Ableistic Science.

In a few days, I’m going to post a summary and a synthesis of everything that I have been talking about (I guess you could say a new abstract).  But for now, here is the newest abstract that I have written at 249 words.  It’s by no means perfect, but I’m getting closer and closer and I know the identity of my thesis: Ableistic Science leads to Ableistic Advocacy.


Yergeau and Heilker state that “every public discourse on autism is begging for rhetorical analysis.”  As the self-described “world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization,” Autism Speaks (AS) is a prime candidate for such a rhetorical analysis.  A preliminary study of AS reveals what they really advocate for: the eradication of autism.  Two questions arise from this finding: (1) how does AS  have the authority to pursue this objective, and (2) who does AS really advocate for?  

To answer these questions, we must trace AS back to its ideological roots.  Using Burke’s Terministic Screens, we can show that AS is the output of autism; autism is the output of Theory of Mind; Theory of Mind is the output of Otherness; and Otherness is the output of a different way of being in the world. Ableistic science, or the pathologization of the Other, is the terministic screen that determines the output in each of these cases and also answers question 1.

This answer combined with what AS’ objective is leads us to the following conclusion: ableistic science leads to ableistic advocacy (AS).  This leads to AS advocating for the parents of autistic children rather than autistic people themselves.  They do this by subjugating the autistic into silence which they then use as further warrant for their pursuit of the eradication of autism.

But autistic self-advocacy organizations are working to depathologize their Otherness by reclaiming what Heilker and Yergeau call “a different way of being in the world through language.” [249]

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