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Autism , , , ,

Get A Pair Of Movado Watches for $5

As part of “April is Autism Awareness Month”, Allen M and Madison Jewelers in conjunction with Movado Watch Group are sponsoring a promotion to benefit Danny’s Wish iPad for Autism Campaign, which provides free iPads to autistic children to better their communication skills.

“Movado has generously donated a pair of watches to be raffled off at our locations to benefit the Danny’s Wish organization,” said Alen Mamrout, owner of Allen M and Madison Jewelers. “Customers can purchase a raffle ticket for $5 at any of our locations and the entire proceeds will go to the Danny’s Wish Foundation.”

“In addition to the raffle, we will be donating a percentage of our sales to Danny’s Wish during April”, said Mamrout.

“We can’t thank Alen Mamrout and Movado enough,” said Dino Sgueglia, founder of the Danny’s Wish charity. “Danny’s Wish was created in honor of my son Danny, a fun loving boy with Autism. He struggles every day to lead a normal life and even communicate. Our mission at Danny’s Wish is to provide life enhancing experiences and resources for children and their families dealing with Autism and Autism-related spectrum disorders. With the help of Movado, Allen M and Madison Jewelers we will be able to give more iPads to needy children with Autism.”

“We feel it is important to give back to our community and truly help those in need. Autism is the fastest growing disability in the US today affecting one in fifty kids. We only hope our contribution can assist a family with an autistic child communicate better. Stop in any of our stores and help a child with Autism today,” concluded Mamrout.

Allen M and Madison Jewelers owns and operates eight locations through midtown Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, making them the largest independent jewelers in New York City.
To get your raffle ticket, please visit any one of our stores. For details log into or

ALLEN M: MANHATTAN: 1363 6th Ave | 668 Lexington Ave | 1372 Broadway | BROOKLYN: 7916 3rd Ave
MADISON JEWELERS: MANHATTAN: 1394 6th Ave | 400 Madison Ave | 1385 Broadway | 805 3rd Ave.

Autism, News , , , , , , ,

9 tips to help autism parents survive the holidays

By: (Laura Shumaker)

The year was 1991. Matthew, who had yet to receive a formal diagnosis of autism, was 4, and Andy was 2. My husband and I dressed them matching reindeer sweaters and took them to the company holiday party, where Santa was making an appearance. Andy climbed in to Santa’s lap and asked for a Nerf Bow and Arrow. Matthew was next, and asked for a drain. “A train?” Santa asked cheerfully. “No,” Matthew said, “a drain.”

Matthew wanted a drain. He was fascinated with water going down the drain, and wanted one of his very own.

Since I was still at the stage where I believed i could “fix” my son, I discounted his drain request and searched for educational toys that would “flip the switch” in his brain–Lincoln logs, painting sets, books AND a Nerf Bow and Arrow just like Andy’s. None of them interested him, and then later, we went to my brother’s house for dinner. His daughters had gotten one of those freestanding miniature kitchens with pots, pans, plastic food–and a sink with a drain.

I went out the next day and got one just like it.

The holiday season is full of hopes, dreams, and disappointment for parents of children with special needs. Here are 8 things to remember as we approach the many celebrations in the weeks ahead:

1) Don’t go too crazy on the decorations. They are fun and festive but provide serious sensory overload for your child.

2) Don’t go too crazy on the shopping, and keep receipts. Is it just me, or is it one toy that everyone wants to play with, and the rest just sit there?

3) Is it just me, or are BIG building blocks the best gift ever?

4) Take two cars to holiday parties when the whole family is invited.

You get the picture.

5) If you really want to go to a grown-up holiday party, get helpers way in advance.

6) Resist the temptation to go out and buy more stuff the day before the holiday. You have enough…

7) …but don’t you feel frantic when on child runs out of gifts to open way before the others? I hide two or three gifts in the closet ahead of time, just in case.

8) Brace yourself for meltdowns. Defuse them as quickly and as calmly as possible.

9) REMEMBER the meaning of the holiday.

Autism, Parenting , , , ,

The 5 Scariest Autism ‘Treatments’

Reprinted from Forbes
By Emily Willingham

Autism invites its share of quacks. In fact, it might have more quacks in its vicinity than a duck pond. After almost a decade of watching “cures” and “treatments” come and go … or stay and stay and stay, bafflingly … I’ve unconsciously created a list in my head, a la High Fidelity, of the Top 5 Scariest Autism Treatments Ever. And I don’t even mean that tongue-in-cheek for Halloween. I mean, these are dangerous in the “can kill you or cause permanent harm” sense. Yet, they remain in use in some circles and flogged by certain organizations who claim a commitment to curing or ‘recovering’ children from autism. So, from my head to yours:

  1. MMS. It stands for Miracle Mineral Solution, but it’s really bleach. I know because I tested it myself, destroying a perfectly good cloth napkin in the process. Take a look at what it does to cotton. Now imagine it on the inside of a child’s mouth, esophagus, stomach, or intestines–its peddlers encourage its administration as an enema. Horrorshow. Yet not only do parents try this bleach as a “treatment” for their children’s autism, but also a major autism conference actually featured a presenter flogging this stuff, and the claim that it “recovered” 38 children in 20 months remains on the conference site as I type this.
  2. Chemical castration. Burning off the lining of an autistic child’s intestines might seem pretty horrific, but it can pale in comparison to the tragedy that is chemical castration to “treat” autism. I have previously broken down the background of this concept, introduced to the world of autism treatment by the now notorious father-son team of the Geiers. These two, in a 20-year-long run of damage, might now be reaching the end of their particular race. The father has had his medical license stripped in several states. That didn’t stop the Geiers père et fils from recently filing a patent for their chemical castration protocol.
  3. Chelation. Chelation is the process of using a chemical to strip metal from the blood. It’s a good thing if you have mercury poisoning, which autistic people do not have. Yet, the persistent association in some circles between mercury (as a component of the preservative thimerosal) and autism (a leap from MMR, which never contained thimerosal in the US, to “all vaccines,” most of which also never did) means that many groups still flog chelation as a treatment. It is not one. One of the metals in our bodies that we need to live is calcium–for example, it keeps our hearts beating–and at least one autistic child has died during a chelation “treatment” because it wiped the child’s blood of this life-supporting ion. In the convoluted world of autism and vaccine conspiracy thinking, chemical castration is something that becomes necessary when chelation doesn’t work. Yep. If dosing a child with chemicals meant to strip metal from the blood fails to cure autism, the problem is, so goes the idea, that superhigh testosterone levels must be interfering. Hence, chemical castration must then enter the picture to bring those levels down. There is almost no doubt that some autistic children have had all three of these things done to them: bleaching of their intestines, strafing of their blood with chemical sponges for nonexistent heavy metals, and, as a sort of coup d’grace against everything they are, chemical castration.
  4. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Also a favorite with many of the alt-med-oriented autism organizations, this therapy has been target of an FDA warning to consumers. The bottom line is, laying down a lot of benjamins to subject an autistic child to ‘oxygen therapy’ is a waste of money, a likely torture to the child, and devoid of effectiveness.
  5. Stem cells. Pro tip: If you have to travel outside the FDA purview for a treatment (as people have done for cancer “therapy” outside the US and also do for autism), you might want to think twice about it, or more times if the second thought doesn’t convince you otherwise. There’s not a strong rationale for using stem cells as therapy for autism–what, exactly, would they be compensating for that’s not there?–and although one clinical trial for it is ongoing, as I’ve written here, that trial is strongly redolent of “autism and stem cells?! Why not?” And you might want to not go to Panama or other places to do a trial on your own child. At least wait for, I dunno, some science?

The list of the scary things people sell to parents to inflict on their autistic children is much longer than this and includes things like camel’s milk, antifungals, marijuana, and dolphins. It’s likely not a good idea to try any of them at home … or anywhere else.

Autism , , ,

Danny’s Wish in Conjunction With IRN Payment Systems Gives Out 50 iPads to Families Affected by Autism

Danny’s Wish, in conjunction with IRN Payment Systems, today announced it has finished sending out its third round of iPads to autistic kids. 50 iPads were sent to families affected by autism in 22 different states helping out 65 autistic kids as part of an ongoing campaign started by Danny’s Wish.

“Our mission at Danny’s Wish is to provide life enhancing experiences and resources for kids and families dealing with Autism and Autism related spectrum disorders,” said Dino Sgueglia, President of Danny’s Wish. “We’re very excited to have sent out our third round of iPads as part of our iPads For Autism Campaign. The iPad provides alternative communication and learning applications that allow Autistic children to flourish. These applications grant children new and amazing opportunities by fostering enhanced communication, independence, daily life skills, and developmental growth. More importantly, the iPad gives those without a voice a chance to be heard.”

The iPad for Autism Campaign is an ongoing fundraiser created by Danny’s Wish as a way to provide iPads to needy kids who may otherwise be unable to afford one. Danny’s Wish primarily raises money through a unique fundraising apparatus called The Hope Process: The Hope Process is a division of IRN Payment Systems, a leader in the credit card processing industry for over 25 years. The Hope Process program enables customers, who process their credit card with The Hope Process, to donate to charities based on a percentage of their credit card processing fees that would normally be collected as profit.

“We were able to raise enough money using The Hope Process, and a variety of other fundraisers to purchase 50 iPads,” said Sgueglia. “We have heard from numerous recipients who are all very grateful, many of whom posted on our Facebook Page and Blog, and This is our third round of iPads, to date we have sent out over 150 iPads to kids in need.”

“Danny’s Wish was created in honor of my son Danny, a fun loving boy with Autism. He struggles every day to lead a normal life and even communicate. As a parent, I face the frustration and pain which comes from coping with a child with this affliction. There is never a day that I don’t pray for a cure for Autism and the related spectrum disorders. My biggest wish is to hear my son tell me that he loves me — that will be worth more than anything in the world to me,” said Sgueglia.

“When we see a mother posting a video on our facebook wall of their autistic children singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star all the way through for the first time or a mother posting a picture of her daughter with a Danny’s Wish iPad and telling us it is transforming her daughter right before her eyes, it is all the motivation we need to strive to put more iPads in needy children’s hands,” concluded Sgueglia.

Autism, iPad

7 Myths About Autism It’s Time to Put to Rest

By: Hannah Brown
Reposted from Huff Post

It’s official: The astronomically high numbers on autism released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control — that 1 in 50 children will be diagnosed with the disorder — have jumped even higher. The CDC came out with new figures in March showing that it’s now 1 in 50 children. Some have disputed these new statistics, but I wouldn’t know how to. I’m the mother of a 16-year-old with autism, not an epidemiologist. And I can certainly say, based on my own experiences seeing children of old friends and colleagues being diagnosed every year, the numbers seem to be on the rise.

Last year, just after World Autism Awareness Day when I published my novel, If I Could Tell You, about four families coping with autism, I began hearing from parents of autistic children from all over the U.S., as well as the world: Japan, India, Norway, Israel, France, Italy, Britain and Argentina.

One subject that comes up often when we chat are the many misconceptions people still have about autism. So, I’m going to list the myths that bother me the most. While no one believes all of these, many people still believe some of them.

1. People with autism are all “Rain Man” geniuses. In truth, only between 5-10 percent have what are called “savant abilities,” such as the ability to tell if a large number is prime, to play a piece of music by ear or to make a detailed drawing of a building they’ve only seen once. It’s fascinating when people have such skills, and that’s most likely why savants receive so much publicity. But most kids are like the son of novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), whose only remarkable talent is the ability to hear someone opening a package of potato chips from the other end of the house. That’s what my son is like.

2. People with autism are all mentally disabled. That’s the flip side of the Rain Man stereotype. There are still lots of people out there who think that if kids with autism can’t speak, they are mentally disabled. According to Scientific American, “Researchers have long considered the majority of those affected by autism to be mentally retarded. Although the numbers cited vary, they generally fall between 70 to 80 percent of the affected population,” but common sense should tell people that that is because most of them have no interest in the IQ test and often don’t complete it or pay much attention to it.

3. Autism comes from bad parenting. Bruno Bettelheim popularized the theory about autism being caused by “refrigerator mothers” (which had the horrible result that, for a generation, women who had children with autism were blamed for it). About as many people believe this today as think the earth is flat, but now and then, I bump into someone who asks whether I had trouble bonding with Danny when he was a baby. Any number of new moms may have “trouble bonding,” but that simply isn’t what causes autism.

4. Autism is just a kind of eccentricity. Many people with autism are eccentric (and creative and original), but it is not a lifestyle choice. There are many bloggers claiming to be on the autistic spectrum who say that autism is simply a different way of looking at the world and that parents who want to teach their children skills such as speech or using the toilet are somehow oppressing them or don’t love them. Part of the problem is that autism is a spectrum disorder, and those on it range from totally non-verbal people who bang their heads against the wall to people like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” The critical difference, obviously, is that the Sheldons can make their own decisions about their lives. There’s nothing wrong with spending most of your days dressed as a character from “Star Trek” if that’s what makes you happy. But that is worlds away from being so disabled that you cannot tell anyone you are being abused. Perhaps in the future, someone will invent a term that describes the Sheldons better than “high-functioning autistic” and they won’t be lumped together with non-verbal people with autism who are unlikely to ever live independently.

5. People with autism feel no empathy or affection. People with autism sometimes have trouble expressing affection, but it doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. I have spent a great deal of time with people (both children and adults) on the autistic spectrum and I believe that they feel the same range of emotions we all do: fear, happiness, nerves, anger, etc. It may be difficult for them to understand that everyone doesn’t know the same facts that they do, but that is very different from not feeling empathy. When I’m sad, my son will look at me warily, and then say, with hope, “You’re feeling much better now?” When he was first diagnosed, a distinguished psychiatrist told me that it was “rote behavior” when my son hugged me and that didn’t indicate that he felt affection for me. Later, a teacher told me that my son only hugged people “because he craved sensory input.” I was very upset, but then a neighbor said, “Your son is the warmest kid I’ve ever seen.”

6. There are many treatments that cure autism. There are therapies that treat autism, but nothing that cures it. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which many tout as the treatment of choice, helps some and does not do a great deal for others. My son and other children I have known have actually deteriorated on ABA programs. The same is true for Floortime. Similarly, drug therapies help alleviate certain symptoms of autism in certain kids but don’t help others.

7. Scientists understand what causes autism. Yes, and every day a new study comes out showing that something else causes it.

Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders, News

11 Myths About Autism

  1. People with autism don’t want friends. If someone in your class has autism, she probably struggles with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. She might seem shy or unfriendly, but that’s just because she is unable communicate her desire for relationships the same way you do.
  2. People with autism can’t feel or express any emotion—happy or sad. Autism doesn’t make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.
  3. People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others. Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one’s body language or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice. But, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.
  4. People with autism are intellectually disabled. Often times, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as limitations. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit.
  5. People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. His or her capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.
  6. People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with autism are just odd and will grow out of it. Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a life long condition.
  7. People with autism will have autism forever. Recent research has shown that children with autism can make enough improvement after intensive early intervention to “test out” of the autism diagnosis. This is more evidence for the importance of addressing autism when the first signs appear.
  8. Autism is just a brain disorder. Research has shown that many people with autism also have gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and many allergies.
  9. Autism is caused by bad parenting. In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.
  10. The prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years. The rate of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2009, an estimated 1 in 110 had an autism spectrum disorder.
  11. Therapies for people with autism are covered by insurance. Most insurance companies exclude autism from the coverage plan and only half of the 50 states currently require coverage for treatments of autism spectrum disorders.

10 Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome: Know the Signs

By: Danielle Angel

Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD. It is a mild form of autism and generally manifests without extreme mental disabilities. The main outward characteristics of a person with Asperger’s syndrome are poor social skills, lacking nonverbal communication, and being clumsy.

Unlike other forms of autism, brain imaging has not shown a common pathology between sufferers. Scientists believe that there may be a genetic cause of the illness, as many times multiple people in one household can have the illness. So far, no genes have been identified in relation to the disease.

In a small percentage of cases, exposure to certain chemicals and medications while in utero caused Asperger’s. There are many theories of how an individual may develop Asperger’s syndrome, but none have been proven yet. Currently there are hundreds of studies from scientists around the world trying to understand the cause and treatment of this illness.

Here are 10 classic symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one having this disease, talk to your doctor about screening options.

1. Failure to Develop Friendships

Children who have Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulty cultivating friendships. They may not connect with their peers due to a lack of social skills. They may find it hard to talk to other children or to participate in group activities. This can be difficult for a child with Asperger’s as they may want very deeply to connect with their peers. Oppositely, some children with Asperger’s have no desire to make friendships and will prefer to be by themselves.

2. Selective Mutism

Young children with Asperger’s may demonstrate selective mutism as a symptom. This occurs when they will only speak freely with people they are comfortable with, and may not speak at all to strangers. Extreme cases last for years. The immediate family are typically unaffected, as the child feels comfortable to speak to them. Selective mutism more often occurs at school and in public. Some children refuse to speak to anyone starting from a very young age. This condition can go away on its own, or your child may benefit from therapy.

3. Inability to Empathize

Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may find difficulty empathizing with others. As they age, the affected person will learn the accepted social response for interacting with others. While they may react appropriately and say the “right” things, they may not understand why the other person is truly upset. This can be an issue in childhood as the individual with Asperger’s may play too roughly with their peers or say cruel things, unknowingly hurting the other person. When confronted for this behaviour, the child may respond that what they said was true and they do not understand the issue.

4. Unable to Make Eye Contact or Forcing Eye Contact

People who suffer from Asberger’s syndrome may find it difficult to make and hold eye contact to people they are speaking with. Some believe this condition is brought aout from a lack of confidence. Others recount how making eye contact make themselves very uncomfortable. They say it’s almost painful. There is also the theory that people with Asberger’s syndrome do not realize how important eye contact is for social communication. This may lead to the opposite problem- forcing eye contact. This can make people even more uncomfortable, while the individual with Asberger’s believes they are being more approachable.

5. Being “Active but Odd”

The idea that people with Asperger’s syndrome are not passionate is completely wrong. One common term to describe people who suffer from this illness is “active but odd”. They may become very socially active, forming a few close friendships. Others may try to surround themselves with people, making lots of close acquaintances but no deep friendships. This can be related to how well they empathize with others. People with Asberger’s syndrome may not show many outward signs of this illness, but may just be a bit different.

6. Narrowed Interests

Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may do poorly in school, but that is not to say they don’t have interestes. Instead, their interests are likely very narrowed and specific. It could be playing video games, making models, drawing, and more. These activities focus their minds and they find great comfort in them. If they are forced to leave their projects, they may become greatly distressed. Likewise, if their projects are failing they may become distressed. Fostering these narrowed interests is important for emotional and mental support.

7. Sticking to Routine

Staying to a routine can be very important for people with Asperger’s syndrome. They may become greatly distressed and anxious when their schedule changes. New situations can be frightening. A routine can help manage the anxiety of people with Asperger’s syndrome. Thankfully, much of our world runs on tight schedules. If you suspect your child may have Asperger’s syndrome, putting them on a tight schedule may be one way to help manage some of their symptoms.

8. Literal Interpretations

One of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome is literally interpreting what people say. The affected individual may not understand sarcasm, instead taking what the person has said as true. The idea that people with Asperger’s syndrome do not understand humor is wrong. These individuals may be the funniest people you have ever met. When they realize the fault of their literal interpretations, they are able to understand the true meaning behind what is being said. They may need an explanation though.

9. Excellent Pattern Recognition

One of the positive symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome is an amazing ability to recognize patterns. Their brains are trying to make sense of their surroundings, so a break in pattern may show itself quite clearly. This ability may be evident in childhood, as early schooling develops the neural pathways of pattern recognition. While children with Asperger’s syndrome may find the school setting difficult and struggle with their grades, pattern problems like math and art may be very enriching. Fostering this natural talent is a great idea.

10. Poor Motor Skills

People with Asperger’s syndrome may find it difficult to control their gross and fine motor skills. This may be described by them as being uncomfortable in their own bodies. The motor issues may manifest through poor handwriting caused by poor hand-eye coordination. Using their thumbs and fingers together may be an issue, so holding objects may be difficult. Cooking may be a challenge as using the knives and opening jars can be problematic. People with Asperger’s syndrome may also have difficulty walking, being bouncy or with poor posture.


Autism Facts Every Parent Should Know

Autism Facts Every Parent Should Know
By: Karen Sonja-Carey Ashley

(1): What is Autism?
Autism represents a spectrum of complex neurological and developmental disorders that ranges from mild to severe. Its formal name is: autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and is characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, restrictive and repetitive behavior. Autism is the most severe form of the disease. A milder case is called Asperger syndrome.

(2): Early Signs of Autism
The earlier the diagnosis and treatment the better the prognosis. Some early signs include:
a. Unresponsiveness: the infant does not smile or interact with others
b. Fixation: focusing intently on one item
c. No response to name
d. At age 1: No babbling or any meaningful gestures
e. At 16 months: loss of language and other social skills
f. Poor eye contact
g. Repetitive movements

(3): How is it Diagnosed?
Only brain scans can truly provide accurate diagnosis. Another school of thought requires a multidisciplinary approach that embraces neurological testing, language testing, and in depth cognitive assessments.

(4) Who is More Vulnerable to the Disease?
Autism and its milder form is linked to genetic factors and researchers are still trying to identify which of the genes contribute to a higher degree of susceptibility in young children.

Children of all racial groups develop autism at the same rate, however, black children are less likely to be diagnosed earlier than whites. According to Martell Teasley, a researcher and associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University, Tallahassee, gave the reason for delayed diagnosis in black children as: the “lack of access to quality, affordable, and culturally knowledgeable healthcare” and which includes cases of misdiagnosis.

(5): When Should Treatment Start?
Teasley recommends that Intervention and treatment should start at age 3: “Later intervention will result in poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child’s and family’s quality of life.”

(6) Do Symptoms Get Better or Worse Over Time
The National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke (NINDS) advise that many symptoms improve with treatment and age. Overall “people with an ASD usually continue to need services and supports as they get older” some adolescents may require treatment modifications as they transition into adulthood.


Are Ultrasounds Causing Autism in Unborn Babies?

Scientists are uncovering disturbing evidence that those sneak peeks at baby could damage a developing brain.

Toward the end of my first pregnancy, a doctor ordered an “emergency” ultrasound because she believed I was measuring small. She turned to go to her next client before I could talk to her about it, muttering that she suspected “intrauterine growth retardation.”

My husband and I sat in the waiting room, flooded with anxiety. The scan showed the baby was fine. It wasn’t until years later when I started researching and writing about pregnancy that I learned that ultrasound scans have not been shown to be any more effective in predicting intrauterine growth restriction (doctors these days try to avoid using the word retardation) than palpation of the pregnant woman’s abdomen by an experienced clinician.

The same summer my daughter was born, Marsden Wagner, an obstetrician, scientist, and former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization, wrote: “There is no justification for clinicians using routine ultrasound during pregnancy for the management of IUGR.”

Most women look forward to multiple ultrasounds because they are lulled into the assumption that this technology will catch potentially fatal abnormalities—such as a heart defect—early, so they can be fixed. When doctors tell pregnant women they will only get one or two scans, some are terribly disappointed, feeling that they won’t be able to bond as effectively with the baby or worrying that the doctor won’t know that the baby is growing normally. But one study of 15,151 pregnant women published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that an ultrasound scan does not improve fetal outcome. The study, which was conducted by a team of six researchers over almost four years, compared pregnant women who received two scans to pregnant women who received scans only when some other medical indication suggested an ultrasound was necessary. The results showed no difference in fetal outcomes.

“This practice-based trial demonstrates that among low-risk pregnant women ultrasound screening does not improve perinatal outcome,” the authors conclude. Even when the ultrasound technology uncovered fetal abnormalities, the fetal survival or death rate was the same in both groups.

What the authors did find, however, was that routine ultrasounds led to more expensive prenatal care, adding more than $1 billion to the cost of caring for pregnant women in America each year.

Another study, of 2,834 pregnant women, published in the Lancet, showed that the babies of the randomly chosen group of 1,415 women who received five ultrasounds (as opposed to the group of 1,419 women who had only one scan at eighteen weeks) were much more likely to experience intrauterine growth restriction, a scary combination of words that means the fetus is not developing normally. Ironically, intrauterine growth restriction is one of the conditions that having multiple ultrasounds is supposed to detect.

Though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that obstetricians discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having an ultrasound scan with pregnant patients, ACOG does not explicitly recommend the screening. ACOG explains that ultrasound may reduce fetal mortality rates because women who discover they are carrying fetuses that are incompatible with life will often choose abortion, but ACOG also specifies that ultrasound has not been proven to be effective for reducing infant mortality in any other way.

Their policy statement continues: “Screening detects multiple gestations, congenital anomalies, and intrauterine growth restriction, but direct health benefits from having this knowledge currently are unproven. The decision ultimately rests with the physician and patient jointly.”

The authors of the definitive, exhaustive, 1,385-page textbook for obstetricians, Williams Obstetrics, take a similarly conservative stance about ultrasound and do not explicitly recommend it for low-risk pregnancies: “Sonography should be performed only with a valid medical indication,” the authors write, “and with the lowest possible exposure setting to gain necessary information.”

Yet doctors and other birth providers take great exception if low-risk pregnant women refuse to be scanned. In 2004 when Lia Joy Rundle, a mom of three from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, was just a few weeks pregnant with her second child, she changed insurance providers. The new obstetrician reviewed her paperwork. “We might be able to do a quick ultrasound today, if the machine’s available,” she said. “Then you can take a look at your baby.”

Though they were planning to have a 20-week ultrasound, Lia and her husband saw no benefit to doing an early ultrasound and felt there might be some risk. But when they declined the scan, the obstetrician insisted there was no way to get an accurate due date without it. “Look at him, he’s fine,” she scoffed, pointing at their 1-year-old son. “How many ultrasounds did you have with him?”

But as I uncovered when I was researching this book, there is mounting evidence that overexposure to sound waves—or perhaps exposure to sound waves at a critical time during fetal development—is to blame for the astronomic rise in neurological disorders among America’s children.

In 2006, Pasko Rakic, M.D., a neuroscientist at Yale University School of Medicine, found that prenatal exposure to ultrasound waves changed the way the neurons in mice distributed themselves in the brain. Rakic and his team do not fully understand what effect the brain cell migratory alteration might have on brain development and intelligence, but they noticed, rather alarmingly, that a smaller percentage of cells migrated to the upper cortical layers of the mouse brain and a larger percentage to the lower layers and white matter.

At first reluctant to publish these results because they were preliminary and might discourage pregnant women from accepting medically necessary ultrasounds (the mice studies are part of a years-long double-blind experiment that is testing the effects of ultrasound on primate brains), Rakic decided the findings were too significant to ignore and concluded that all nonmedical use of ultrasound on pregnant women should be avoided. “We should be using the same care with ultrasound as with X-rays,” Rakic cautioned.

Manuel Casanova, a neurologist who holds an endowed chair at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, is one medical doctor who is listening. Casanova contends that Rakic’s mice research helps confirm a disturbing hypothesis that he and his colleagues have been testing for the last three years: that ultrasound exposure is the main environmental factor contributing to the exponential rise in autism.

When Casanova began researching autism 15 years ago he discovered that neuroscientists had not been able to isolate the differences between an autistic brain and a normal brain, unlike with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s, where the damage in the brain has been localized. Casanova realized that in order to understand both the causes and the potential cures for autism, scientists needed first to figure out where in the brain of autistic children damage was occurring.
Since no damage to individual neurons had ever been isolated, Casanova theorized that we might not be examining the brain in the right way. He began looking at the brain as a system instead of isolated parts.

It is these columns of neurons working together, which scientists now call “minicolumns,” that are responsible for higher cognitive functions like facial recognition, joint attention (if I turn my face and look somewhere, a child will turn and look too. Not because I told the child to look, but because the normal human brain is wired to do so), and much more. Joint attention is one of the many qualities that appear to be abnormal in the brains of autistic children. Casanova recognized the imperative of studying the circuitry within the brains of patients with autism and other psychiatric conditions. He and his colleagues found something surprising: brains of autistic patients have a 10 to 12 percent higher number of minicolumns as compared to nonautistic brains.

They also found another anomaly. During the normal formation of the human brain, cells divide in the hollows (ventricles) of the brain and then migrate to the surface (cortex), acquiring a vertical organization into columns. At the same time, other cells migrate tangentially and meet up with the columns. Casanova calls these migrations “a very fine ballet,” and explains that the cells that migrate tangentially have an inhibitory role, acting like a container to keep the cells in the minicolumn from spilling into other parts of the brain. Compared with other animals, even primates, the neurons in the human brain have to travel a much longer distance, and during this long migration there is, unfortunately, ample opportunity for things to go wrong.

Casanova explains: “You know that a shower curtain keeps water inside of the bathtub. If you have a defect in the shower curtain, water will spill out of the tub. If the radial migration is not coupled with the tangential migration of inhibitory cells, then the minicolumns will have a faulty shower curtain of inhibition and information will no longer be kept within the core of the minicolumn, it will be able to suffuse to adjacent minicolumns and have an overall amplification affect. Actually the cortex of autistic individuals is hyperexcitable and they suffer from multifocal seizures. One third of autistic individuals have suffered at least two seizures by the time they reach puberty.”

Translation: As the “minicolumn” brain cells move outward, if the complementary cells that inhibit them don’t keep pace, the information in the minicolumns will suffuse out to surrounding cells, causing a chain reaction that can result in seizures.
Ultrasound waves, Casanova explains, are a form of energy known to deform cell membranes. In fact, in the early 1990s the FDA approved the use of ultrasound to treat bone fractures because ultrasound increases cell division. Some cells in the human body are more sensitive than others.

Among the most sensitive cells? Those stem cells in the brain that divide and migrate.

Casanova’s hypothesis: Prolonged or inappropriate ultrasound exposure may actually trigger these cells to divide, migrate, and form too many minicolumns. They divide when they’re not supposed to and there are no inhibitory cells to contain them.

There are more neurologically damaged children in the United States today than ever before. As of 2007, 5.4 million children (the entire population of Finland) have been diagnosed with attention disorders, and today one in every eighty-eight children in America has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Japan, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States are among the industrialized nations that are seeing a huge, troubling, and seemingly inexplicable rise in the numbers of autistic children. These countries are geographically and culturally different. Their vaccine schedules are different. The labor and delivery experience is also different: In Scandinavian countries and Japan many more pregnant women tend to choose unmedicated vaginal births.
But all these countries do have one thing in common: the vast majority of pregnant women are getting regular prenatal care and being exposed to ultrasound in the form of anatomy scans and fetal-heart monitoring. In countries with nationalized health care, where virtually every pregnant woman is exposed to multiple ultrasounds, autism rates are even higher than in the United States.

The ultrasounds done on pregnant women today use sound waves with eight times the intensity used before 1991. This time period roughly coincides with the alarming increase in the incidence of autism within our population. Even more disturbing, the majority of technicians using ultrasound machines (as many as 96 percent) do not understand the safety margins they must adhere to in order to make sure the fetus is not exposed to harm.
As ultrasound equipment gets smaller, less expensive, and more portable, it has also become available—without any regulation—to anyone who knows how to surf the Internet. Want to see or hear your baby? You can buy your own ultrasound machine on Amazon or eBay.

“Most people believe it’s just about taking pretty pictures,” Manuel Casanova says, his voice thick with regret.
Jennifer Margulis is the author of The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Baby Before Their Bottom Line