Thesis Proposal: Part X – Proposal 5

So, this is the proposal that begins to look the most like what my final one looks like structure-wise (but still, there’s not really anything in here that is still in my final thesis proposal).

This was a big step for me because I ventured beyond just the introduction in this attempt.

However, one thing that I still did not have any concept of was how to do the methodology section.  When I asked my advisor, he told me that I didn’t have to do one because I could sow the methodology throughout the paper when I needed to, rather than have one single piece.  But I asked that after I wrote this proposal, so, that’s why this one’s still weird.

My advisor ended our meeting like he always ended our meetings, by saying, “Keep it simple.”


The subject of my thesis is that that 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 is a prime candidate for such a rhetorical analysis.  A preliminary study of Autism Speaks reveals what they really advocate for: the eradication of autism.  By using Latour’s concept of the Black-Box combined with Burke’s Terministic Screens, I will trace Autism Speaks back to its ideological roots.  I will show that Autism Speaks is the output of Theory of Mind; Theory of Mind is the output of Autism; Autism is the output of Otherness; and Otherness is the output of a different way of being in the world. The terministic screen used to create the output is ableistic science, or the pathologization of the Other.

This leads us to the following conclusion: ableistic science leads to ableistic advocacy (AS).  This leads to Autism Speaks 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 and embracing what Heilker and Yergeau call “a different way of being in the world through language.”

Drawing from disability studies and the rhetorical perspectives on semiotics, terministic screens, and the rhetoric of science, my culminating project is built to answer two primary questions.  First, how does Autism Speaks have the authority to pursue the eradication of autism?  Second, who does Autism Speaks really advocate for?

Accordingly, in this proposal, I explain the initial motivation behind my research; present a methodology that unites 1) Latour’s Black-Box Theory and Burke’s Terministic Screens and 2) disability studies with rhetoric of science, and apply these new frameworks to the genesis of Autism Speaks and Theory of Mind research respectively; analyze findings from a preliminary study of the Autism Speaks website; provide a rationale and overview of the full study; and describe the larger societal implications and significance of this project.
Guided Identity Self-Destruction to Finding who I Am

During my time teaching special education in the public schools, I experienced many times where I was taught, either directly or indirectly, that some part of me was un-teacherlike.  In other words, part of me was wrong.  They began by asking me to small changes, but it eventually grew to a point where they demanded that I not be patient with my students because it was allowing the students to walk all over me.  

After two years of this, I couldn’t take it anymore because I was playing a part in the destruction of my own identity.  I spent the first few weeks of graduate school trying to pick up the pieces of the shattered identity that I had destroyed, but I began to notice a pattern of all of these un-teacherlike qualities.  During this time, I had to pick a topic for my first graduate paper and, because I couldn’t think of anything else, I picked identity formation in autistic people.  I began research for the paper only to find more and more similarities between what I was researching and me.

I finished the paper and decided that the topic in the paper was what I was going to write about for my thesis.  I then had the time to do a bit of self-reflection about the similarities between what I had been researching, the autistic, and me.  I found more and more connections between the things I have done in the past, like sensitivities to particular food textures, and autism.  In an attempt to better understand autism, I searched Google and clicked on the first thing that came up: Autism Speaks.  

What I found there did nothing to alleviate the anxiety I was feeling.  It was an anxiety caused by picking up the pieces of my identity and finding something new that I could hold onto, but that new thing could easily be ripped apart again.  The website told me that I needed to be fixed if I had autism.

It was around this time that I read the first chapter of Erik Erkison’s “Identity: Youth in Crisis.”  I only got a few pages in before he said something that struck me as a mind-blown moment.  But it wasn’t a positive mind-blown moment, it was a moment of personal emotional desperation.

In psychological terms, identity formation employs a process of simultaneous reflection and observation, a process taking place on all levels of mental functioning, by which the individual judges himself in the light of what he perceives to be the way in which others judge him in comparison to themselves and to a typology significant to them (Erikson, Chapter 3)

In order to explain why I felt desperation after reading this, I have to explain one thing that I learned in my undergraduate career.  Autistic people do not have a theory of mind, in other words, they do not have the ability to know what other people are thinking.  In other words, according to Erik Erikson, autistic people cannot form an identity.  And I was beginning to think that I was autistic.  So, did that mean I can’t have an identity?

This led to 5 months of researching Theory of Mind for logical flaws and solipsisms.  Only recently have I discovered how to transform this whole research journey into a single, solidified thesis with an argument.  The argument is: Ableistic Science leads to Ableistic Advocacy.



First methodology – Definitional Argument/Rhetorical Analysis


Second Methodology – Disability Studies and Rhetoric of Science



Preliminary Study



Rationale & Overview (How to expand on what I’ve done so far)



Societal Implications and Significance of this Project



Chapter List

At this time, I am projecting the completed thesis will consist of seven chapters.  Below, I outline those chapters and provide a brief summary of what I expect to accomplish in each of those chapters.

  1. Introduction
    • I will outline my argument and give general overview of my thesis. I will establish exigency by summarizing my findings that Autism Speaks’ goal is the eradication of autism.
  2. Lit Review – How I got here?
    • I will situate my study in how I got to my current topic.  I will continue to establish agency by documenting the power of television to create identities and images
  3. Outline of Study and Goals (Methodology)
    • I will explain the reasons behind the choices I made in
  4. The results of the study
    • I will detail the data that I have gathered.
  5. Conclusion
    • I will tie everything together, cementing the link between ableistic science and ableistic advocacy, and the link between the internet and autistic self-advocacy/activism.



On the following page, I offer what I believe to be a thorough and realistic timeline that will enable me to gather and analyze data one other autism advocacy organization, draft the seven anticipated thesis chapters, and revise the entire document by the deadline set by the School of Graduate Studies to qualify for graduation in Spring 2016.


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