Thesis Draft IV

The draft of the narrative for the Introduction is officially completed.  I will probably go in and make some changes to it so that it is similar throughout.

Tomorrow, I hope to start (and hopefully finish) the scholarly pieces.  Those will be a bit dry, but I’m gonna try and make them somewhat interesting.  But it is an introduction, so what can you do?



The subject of my thesis aims to illustrate both how advocacy is rhetorically constructed in various contexts by various people and the consequences of advocacy.  I will do this by exploring what advocacy is, how it is rhetorically constructed, and how it affects autistic people.

At its core, my thesis and this proposal will be an autistethnography (a play on the term autoethnography). An autoethnography is both a research method and writing style that is reflective of the researcher’s personal experiences as they conduct the research.  An autistethnography is the same thing, but conducted by an autistic person.  As such, every other section will be a non-fictional narrative that fits with what surrounds it.

Using Burke’s concepts of terministic screens and pentad, Foucault’s concepts of genealogy and archaeology, and Bruno Latour’s concept of the black box, my culminating project is built to answer four primary questions.  First, broadly speaking, how is advocacy rhetorically constructed? Second, what is pseudo-advocacy, what does it look like, and what are its consequences? Third, how does Autism Speaks establish itself as an authority qualified to advocate for autistic people?  Finally, what rhetorical moves do people identified as “in need of help” use to advocate for themselves?


I was hired as an emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD) special education teacher five days before new-teacher workshops began.  When I asked my supervisor where I would be teaching, he told me they don’t know yet.  Patiently, I went through the workshops waiting to find out where I was going to teach.

Finally, on the Friday before school started, I found out where I was going to be: Walsh Elementary School.  My blood ran cold, I’d heard things about that school: it was the worst school in the district behavior-wise.  I had my work cut out for me, but I decided that I was going to be a good thing to happen to this school.  I probably couldn’t turn the whole school around, but I could be there for my students even when everyone else abandoned them.

But above everything else, I was not going to put them into a physical hold.  I was going to respect their boundaries no matter what.


1.  Definition of Terms

In this section, I will be highlighting and defining the terms that I will be using throughout this thesis that may have a different definition than the dominant definition.

1.1 Autism

1.1.1 Leo Kanner Definition.

1.1.2 Hans Asperger Definition.

1.1.3 DSM IV Definition.

1.1.4 DSM V Definition.

1.1.5 My Definition.


On the first day of school, I found out that I was assigned a shadow.  The district didn’t feel that I didn’t have enough experience to work at Walsh Elementary School, so they made the lead EBD teacher for the district watch over everything that I did.

She read every word I wrote, watched every interaction I had with students, and criticized just about all of it.  “If you do that, then they are going to walk all over you.”  The discipline had begun, but it wasn’t me disciplining my students, but the school district disciplining me.

Two weeks in, I had a particularly rough day.  One of my students bit me because I wouldn’t let him climb over the attack barricade.  The attack barricade was a gym mat that was put up against the doorframe of a side room where we would herd the violent students into and put the mat up and they would run up against it swearing, spitting, trying to kick and hit us.  Using the barricade ensured that I didn’t have to put him into a physical hold, which was something I never wanted to do.

So the principal decided that he was going to be suspended because he had bitten me.  He finally sat down, breathing hard from all the energy exerted.  Sensing his mood had somewhat shifted, I told my shadow that I was going to go inside to sit next to and try and talk to him.  As soon as I had sat down, he bolted and I found out that my shadow decided that this was the time for a break in the next room.

The mat fell with a violent whoosh and he ran out the door.  I ran after him, only to hear, “What the hell?” coming from my shadow.  I didn’t have time to process it because I had to hurry up and get him before he potentially hurt someone.  I found him again in the classroom and tried to get him out.  The general education teacher just gave me a dirty look as if to say, “How dare you let this child back in here!”

I radioed my shadow because I didn’t know what to do.  He was calmly in his classroom, not hurting anyone, but he had been suspended.  I knew that removing him would cause a scene and he may get violent again.  I heard back from my shadow, letting out a deep sigh of disappointment, “Just leave him there, then.”

I walked back to my classroom and entered just soon enough to hear my shadow talking to my co-worker, saying, “This job wasn’t meant for everyone, I just don’t think he can handle this job.  I just hope he figures that out on his own.”  I was crushed, to say the least.

At the end of the day, we sat down and talked.  She used an idiom that made no sense to me, so I asked, “What are you talking about?”

She sighed again, “Well, it means…” She paused, looking at me as if for the first time, “Wait, are you autistic?”

Taken aback a bit, I replied, “Probably, but not officially, why?”

“A lot of stuff make sense now.”

It was at that moment that I found out that another of my students was not on the bus, so I had to go figure that out.  I searched all of the places at the school where he might be, but couldn’t find him.  At the moment that I really started stressing, I got a radio message from the school counselor, “Where’s the student who bit you?  He needs to get on the bus.”  They were talking about the student who had been suspended.  I informed them that that student had been suspended, so he wouldn’t be riding the bus.  “It doesn’t matter if he was suspended or not, he needs to get on the bus.”

I contacted the paraprofessional who was with him and let him know that he needed to put the student on the bus.  I finally located the other student who wasn’t on the bus and found out that he was riding the bus that he had taken up until a few days earlier.  I walked back to my classroom, feeling good about solving that.

I got in and my shadow was pacing, “What the hell!”  She demanded.

Taken completely aback, I responded, “What’s going on?”

“That student was not supposed to get on the bus.  We called his mother, who came by to pick him up while you were off doing whatever you were doing.”

“The school counselor told me to get him on the bus.”

“The school counselor didn’t know that he was suspended.”

“I told her that he was and she still told me to put him on the bus.”

“It doesn’t matter, he should not have gotten on that bus.  You’re a teacher, you should know that!”  With that, she stormed out.


1.2 Advocacy



My shadow told me that I had to be with my students and advocate for them when they went to the principal.  She told me that I had to be at every meeting that the principal or vice-principal had with one of my students.

One of my students was called to the office and I went with him because I heard the message over the radio and that was part of my job.  We got into the school office and they said that the principal would be with us in just a few moments.  Well, those few moments took about an hour.  An hour where I just sat there with my student and tried to keep him from completely freaking out.

My shadow storms in after 45 minutes and demanded where I have been.  I told her that we were waiting to meet with the principal.  She told me, “You cannot just waste time, Sam.  You have to realize that this isn’t your only student.”

“While you are right, this student needs me right now, we have been waiting for 45 minutes to get in to talk to the principal for…I don’t even know what.  I am here to be an advocate for him, and that is what I have been doing, so I am not wasting time!”

We finally got into the principal’s office and she was angry because a student had come forth saying he had picked on another student.  She refused to let him speak, so once I found an opening, I turned to the student and asked him what his version of events was.

He was visibly angry and it came out in his voice, which was shakingly low.  “She came up to me and called me a name, so I called her a name.  That’s what happened here.  I didn’t bully her.”

“The way I see it, you did bully her,” The principal replied.  “We have no other reports of her calling you anything, so you are going to in-recess detention.”  He stood up and began pacing, fuming.

I asked him, “Did anyone hear her call you anything?”

“Yeah, there were three people.”

“Okay, just write down the names of those three people and we’ll see if they heard her call you anything.”  He stopped pacing and sat down again, writing the names.

“That won’t be necessary.”  The principal said.

Confused, I asked, “Why?”

“Because he is a bully and he bullied her.”

“Perhaps he did, but it is possible that his story is true as well, and we can find out.”

“No.  Thank you for coming in today.  Mr. Harvey, may I have a word?”  My student left and she gave me a cold, hard look, “Look, Mr. Harvey, you need to learn your place if you are going to stay employed.”  I stood up to leave, and she said, “One more thing.  The district is shifting teachers around and we were wondering if you would want to teach at Adonis High School.”


“That would start two weeks from now.”


2. Theoretical Methodology

In this section, I will discuss the theoretical frameworks and how I plan to use them in this thesis.  I will use the pentad and terministic screens to analyze how advocacy organizations represent and narrate autism.  I will use archaeology, genealogy, black box, and terministic screens to trace back the advocacy organizations to their core idea.

2.1 Burke’s Pentad

According to Blakesley, Kenneth Burke claims that in nearly every discourse, there is a discussion on the motivation of human action.  This discussion on motivation usually falls into five categories (32-33), what Burke calls the pentad: act, scene, agent (actor), agency (the tool that the agent/actor uses to perform the act), and purpose (of the act).

Using this framework to analyze artifacts from several autism/autistic advocacy organizations reveals how these organizations tell the story of autism.  Furthermore, it also reveals the motivation behind particular both the characters in the story of autism and the author/organization communicating the story.


A week after the principal asked me if I would be interested in switching to the high school, one of my favorite students (I know I wasn’t supposed to play favorites, but what can you do?) had a behavior that caused the school to go into containment.  All doors were to be closed and teachers were to teach as they normally would.

I was there and I was able to talk him down after the principal and vice-principal had put him into a physical hold.  I asked him, as he was struggling to get out of it, “Do you want to get out of the hold?”  He snarled at me, escaping the physical restraint and ran at the door slamming into it with his shoulder.

The staff demanded that I put him into a physical hold because he was slamming against the door, but I refused because the solid door was locked.  He put his head on the door and began banging his hand onto the door, I walked up calmly to see another staff member giving him a back rub in an attempt to calm him down.  Upon realizing he was crying, I asked, “Do you want her to continue with the back rub?”

He choked out, “No.”  With that, the staff stopped rubbing his back and he stopped hitting the door. We stood there in silence for a few minutes before I asked him if we could please go to the principal’s office.  He hung his head low and said, “Okay.”  As we were walking to the principal’s office, he said quietly, “I’m sorry I’m such a bad person.”  I nearly broke down weeping right there.

Tears in my eyes, I stopped him, saying, with a cracking voice, “You are not a bad person, you are not your behaviors.  You are an amazing guy who’s struggling, but that doesn’t make you bad.”

With that, he walked off.  The principal decided to suspend him for a week.  That was understandable, but what happened next was not understandable or acceptable in any way.


2.2 Burke’s Terministic Screens

Terministic screens is a theory stating that the author’s word choice influences how the reader/audience thinks about the topic being written about.  It is a set of terms, phrases, or analogies that ensure the audience sees a topic from the author’s perspective. This prevents the audience from seeing any other viewpoint.  “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (emphasis in original, Burke 1341).

In this thesis, I will use a cluster analysis.  A cluster analysis is done by aiming to reveal the “verbal tics” of the writer’s style.  In relation to autism, this may include using terminology that is associated with the medical model of disability.  Blakesley gives the example of Burke’s cluster analysis on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf when he shows, “Hitler habitually characterized Jews as devils and the masses as feminine, combining religious and sexual imagery to horrific effect” (104).


He came back the next week, my last week at Walsh, to a teacher who told me she did not want him in her classroom.  I told her that we couldn’t take him out of her classroom because that was where he belonged.  He was assigned to her classroom, she was his teacher.  But I assured her that I would be there as soon as I could if anything did go wrong.

About an hour into the school-day, I got a call asking me to come to her classroom because he was having a behavior. I got to class to find him sitting in his desk, quiet and calm.

He saw me and shook his head angrily.  I went to the teacher, confused, and asked, “What’s going on?  You said he was having a behavior.”

“He is having a behavior,” she replied, “He’s refusing to grab a clipboard.”


“Well, during math time in my classroom, my students have to have a clipboard, and he has refused to grab a clipboard.”

The student heard this and spoke up, practically yelling, “I tried to grab a clipboard, but she wouldn’t let me use the one I chose.”

She replied, lips pursed, “Well, that wasn’t his assigned clipboard.”

My mind was reeling at the utter stupidity of this demand.  Use a clipboard, no, not that clipboard, I don’t want you in my class, so I’m gonna get you out!

“Let’s just let him use the clipboard he had chosen.”

“But that is not his clipboard, that is another students.”

“Is the student here today?”


“So why can’t he use the student-who-is-not-here-today’s clipboard?”

“Because it is not his.  And if he cannot follow the rules, then he has no right to be in this classroom.”

Just as I was about to respond, my shadow came in and asked what was going on.  The teacher replied with what was going on and my shadow said, “He needs to grab his own.”  She turned to the student and said, “You need to grab your own clipboard.”

“No, I’m not going to grab a clipboard because she won’t let me take one.”

It was at this point that my shadow decided to do a technique that behavior managers call, the broken record technique.  The broken record technique is where you keep repeating yourself and your direction over and over until they finally comply.  My student responded in kind.  The conversation went something like this.

Shadow: You need to grab your own clipboard.

Student: No, I’m not going to grab a clipboard because she won’t let me take one.

Shadow: You need to grab your own clipboard.

Student: No, I’m not going to grab a clipboard because she won’t let me take one.

Shadow: You need to grab your own clipboard.

Student: No, I’m not going to grab a clipboard because she won’t let me take one.

Shadow: You need to grab your own clipboard.

Student: No, I’m not going to grab a clipboard because she won’t let me take one.

It went on like this for about five minutes before he finally yelled in her face, “Fuck you!”  The class became deadly silent.

My shadow replied, “You are coming with me to the principal’s office now.”

“Fine,” he said smugly and walked out.

The thought going through my head at that time was, This is not worth fighting over.  Just let him choose whatever damn clipboard he wants.

I am a slow walker, so by the time I got to the principal’s office, they had been there for a few minutes.  As I approached, I could hear him swearing and yelling at the top of his lungs.  I rushed in to find five staff standing opposite of him in front of the telephone.  “Just let me fucking call my mom, you assholes!”  He demanded.

I was about to tell the people to disperse and let him call when my shadow responded, “No, you cannot call your mom.  You need to calm down and talk to us first.”

He pushed passed the people blocking the phone and started picking up the receiver when my shadow bent over and unplugged the phone.  I thought to myself, Why did she just do that?  Asking to call his mom is a very logical idea because his teacher just set him up to fail.  And so did we, and by we, I mean me, because we put him in with a teacher who didn’t want him in there.

He rushed over to another phone to try and call his mom just as a police officer came in and asked him to calm down.  He walked straight passed the officer and picked up the phone and began dialing just to have my shadow unplug it again.  He started yelling even louder and people started getting in his way and he started pushing through them.

Next, he walked into the principal’s office where she was having a meeting with someone and grabbed her phone to call his mom.  And again, my shadow unplugged the phone.  I said, “Just let him call his mom.”

“Don’t question me.”  My shadow said vehemonously.  “You don’t have the kind of experience I do.  You don’t know what his motivation is here.”

“Neither do you.”  I said quietly.

It was at this time that the police officer began trying again to calm down my student, who was way beyond the point of calming down―and with good reason.  We had blocked every attempt to contact someone who was not trying to set him up to fail.  The police officer tried to put his hand on my student, only to have my student push it off.

He turned to me and said, “He just put his hands on me, did you all see that.”  He then tried to put my student in a one-person hold, but my student was too strong for that.  He turned to me and said, “You grab him, we’ll put him into a two-person hold.”

And to my utter horror and shame, I complied.  My one goal was to never put a student into a physical hold, one goal.  One goal that was quickly dashed to smithereens.  I am not ashamed because I failed my one goal, but because I put a student who had been set up to fail into a physical hold for being understandably angry.

I did that.  And at that moment, the discipline I had endured for six weeks began to take hold.  I was becoming less of me and more of…a teacher.


2.3 Foucault’s Archaeology and Genealogy

In their article “Towards a Foucauldian Methodology in the Study of Autism: Issues of Archaeology, Genealogy, and Subjectification,” Eva Vakirtzi and Phil Bayliss discuss Foucault’s concepts of genealogy and archaeology.

They define the archaeologist as one who “is interested in how one discursive formation comes to be constituted for another…Thus, the ‘archaeologist’ has to take into account who has the right to make statements” (371).  In other words, archaeology is looking back and attempting to determine what ideologies got us to this current idea: or this image of autism as something that needs to be fixed.  I will be specifically looking at the ideological precursors of Autism Speaks in order to determine how they have the authority to do what they do.

“However, archaeological analysis cannot say many things about the causes of the transition from one way of thinking to another” (371).  This is where Foucault’s genealogy comes into play.  “The ‘genealogist’ concentrates on the relations of power, knowledge, and the body of modern society. According to Foucault, the task of the genealogy is to destroy the primacy of origins, of unchanging truths.”  So, genealogy is the analysis of how we got this ideological point.

2.4 Latour’s Black Box

In his book “Science in Action,” Latour explains that the Black Box is a term that comes from computer science and engineering and it is used “whenever a piece of machinery or a set of commands is too complex. In its place they draw a little box about which they need to know nothing but its input and output” (2-3).  To summarize, it’s a complex thing that we don’t care about, so we only focus on the input and the output.

The Black Box is another way of saying Foucault’s archaeology because it only focuses on the input and the output.  However, this thesis will attempt to break open these boxes to reveal how autism and autistic advocacy organizations like Autism Speaks has the authority to advocate for the eradication of autistic people.  But how do we do this?  The Black Box is a Black Box, so we can’t analyze it, right?

However, Latour discusses how Black Boxes can be used “to lead the reader somewhere else downstream” (23).  This is identical to the purpose of terministic screens.  Black boxes, then, can be opened by analyzing what terministic screen was applied to the input to make its output.

Latour says, “No more has to be said about it [the Black Box] that it can be used to lead the reader somewhere else downstream, for instance to a hospital ward, helping dwarves to grow” (23).  

So, a Black Box is very similar to the first rule of fight club: we don’t talk about what’s in the Black Box.  This lack of discussion and explanation leads the reader somewhere.  In a sense, it is a reflection of reality, therefore, it is a deflection of reality―the same definition as terministic screens.  This means that black boxes can be analyzed using the same methods rhetoricians use to analyze terministic screens.


I was transferred to Adonis High School two days later.  I hated what I had done, I hated everything about it.  But I had new students that I had to work with now.  But they all hated me too because their previous teacher had been transferred six weeks into the school year.

Throughout the rest of the time that I worked there, there was more disciplining of me going on.  It started small with things like, “Make sure all of your students are sitting when the bell rings,” which was met with slight aggression, but the students got used to it.  

But it grew larger and larger, things like, “You cannot be patient with your students or else they will walk all over you.”  And gradually, the part of myself that I loved the most, my patience, was whittled away.  But the most disturbing thing, I began to realize, was that this was not forced on me.  The district didn’t tie me down and whittle the bits of me that weren’t teacher-ish away, they disciplined me in such a way that I did it to myself.  Their final disciplinary lesson would prove to be too much for me.  


3. Autistethnography

This thesis is written as an autistethnography.  The style of autistethnography that I will be using is similar to one that Melanie Yergeau uses in her article “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists who Theorize Theory of Mind.”  In the article, she tells a personal story that she expands on bit by bit and connects it to her scholarship; they complement and build off of each other.

There are several reasons I am using an autistethnography as the narrative structure of this thesis.  Chief among them is that I come from several minority groups, chief among them being a group where I can “identify as autistic, but cannot define what it means to be autistic” (Rex Veeder, personal communication, December 3, 2015).

This is because clinicians, psychologists, and doctors define what it means to be autistic, not autistic people ourselves.  This is clearly neurotypical bias.  Is it appropriate for white people to define what African American means, or Christians what Judaism means.  They are not part of the group, yet they are defining the identity of the both the group and the people within the group.

Upon beginning my search for a theoretical framework that fit exactly what I have described, I found Muted Group Theory.

3.1 Muted Group Theory

(Explain what Muted Group Theory is)

3.2 Autistethnographies and Muted Group Theory


The district told me that I should act like a particular teacher who’s pedagogy was to break her student’s will so as to scare them into compliance.  She would go up to students and point out that they were failing a class in front of all of their peers.  Went up to students and told them that they could never achieve their dreams because they were in a special education math class and math was required for their dreams.  They feared and hated her, but they did what she said.

“She brings results,” My supervisors would say.  “Be more like her.”

They even made her my mentor.  She tried to make me treat my student as less than.  Saying things like, “These students will walk all over you,” “One of the parents of your students came up to me and said that her child is going to walk all over you,” “Sometimes, I just don’t understand you,” “Another of your student’s parents came up to me and told me, ‘how am I supposed to take this guy seriously?’  Might want to rethink how you do things.”

When I refused to treat my students as less then, she made my life miserable.  She made sure that I had all of the paperwork-heavy cases bogging me down, making it nearly impossible to both teach and do all the paperwork required.  But I tried, but my students continued to have behaviors and fail classes.

In the end, I decided that I couldn’t handle the toxic environment of the public school district anymore.  If they wanted me to be more like this teacher and rob these students of their dignity and agency, then I had no desire to teach in a public school.  So I left, but the discipline had made its mark.  I was a completely different person than who I had entered as, I had no patience, no hope, no identity.

For those two years, I had chipped away at what my identity had been; chipped away myself because I was deemed, “un-teacher-like,” and so, I was disciplined.  I had “become teacher-like,” at the cost of myself.  But now, I was not a teacher, so who was I?  And as I looked around, I found myself in complete shambles, barely holding on to the last vestige of hope that I would be able to find out who I really am.


4. What to Expect

This thesis will set out to find out who I am.  I will do this by documenting the journey I have gone through to get to my thesis as it currently is.  Chapter 1 discusses my first semester in graduate school and how I was beginning to discover my thesis even then.  

Chapter 2 discusses the first major topic shift that occurred in my thesis that occurred in my second semester of graduate school.  Chapter 3 will begin to uncover where my thesis is now by rhetorically analyzing Autism Speaks.  This will culminate to the conclusion where I will discover who I am.

Works Cited

Blakesley, David. The Elements of Dramatism. 1st ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2001. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. “Terministic Screens.” Modern and Postmodern Rhetoric. eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Vakiritzi, Eva and Phil Bayliss. “Towards a Foucualdian Methodology in the Study of Autism: Issues of Archaeology, Genealogy, and Subjectification.” Journal of Philosophy of Education. 47.3 (2013): 364-378. Print.

Yergeau, Melanie. “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists who Theorize Theory of Mind.” Disability Studies Quarterly. 33.4 (2013): n. pag. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.


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