“Terministic Screens”

1) I’m an English major and am Pre-Med. I chose English because I love to write and I enjoy the study of language and rhetoric. I’m president of a Pre-Medical club here on campus called the Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association (Pre-SOMA). My goals for the semester include studying for the MCAT (and hopefully being prepared by January) and focusing on time management. I’m also really looking forward to my English 416 class 🙂

2) In his concept of a “terministic screen,” Burke offers us an understanding of the relationships between language and reality. Correspondingly, Broderick notes that each of her “watershed moments” is paired with a cultural shift in rhetorical content, rhetorical concept, and/or rhetorical strategy. She discusses how various treatment studies and organizations (Lovaas, Maurice, and Autism Speaks) have changed the face of autism, affecting one’s “terministic screen” for which one views autism (in the eyes of the public, and in the eyes of those directly affected). Specifically, the language of recovery, for example, can create the notion of an “implied promise” of normalcy for one affected by autism. It can give them hope. This construct of “recovery” goes along with the language of parenting – parents want their children to be “normal”; that is, non-handicapped. Parents are thought to have a responsibility to protect and do the best that they can for their children. Those with autistic children very well might blame themselves because they feel hopeless; that they are not living up to the rhetoric that goes along with being a good parent. On the other hand, scientific representations of autism might prevent us from seeing the emotional realities of what it is like to be affected by autism. The language of science generates thoughts of empirical data, research, legitimacy. These treatments and methods are thought to be fact-based and accurate. If science says that an autistic person is disabled, or that there is no hope for recovery, then that becomes the new reality for much of society.

Burke’s metaphor of “terministic screens” is useful in examining disabilities because it makes it easier to see how one’s judgment can be affected (negatively and positively) by the various rhetoric surrounding the language for a particular disability. We might better understand why people feel the way they do about the different aspects of disability – treatment, recovery, acceptance. At the same time, though, “terministic screens” is slightly unhelpful in that it does not take into account the fact that there are influences on one’s notion of a disability that may not be symbol or language-based (childhood experiences, cultural differences, etc.).


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