Relationship to Autism Spectrum Disorder
Concept Paper: Fetal Ultrasound and its Relationship to Autism Spectrum Disorder Introduction
Whales are the largest creatures to have ever inhabited this earth. Imagine, through the entire history of the planet there has never existed a larger animal, and like humans, a mammal. The largest whale observed by scientists in the 20th century was thirty-three meters (110 feet), in perspective, an equivalent to ten full-size sedan vehicles bumper to bumper (USDC, 2012). In March of 2000, seventeen whales beached themselves on the shores of the Bahamas. There is nothing unusual in the beaching of a whale except when the numbers exceed one or two. For years the beachings had confounded scientists. After physical examination of the whales from the Bahamas, a team of veterinarians determined that the cause of death was damaging, acoustically induced hemorrhage around the ears and linings of the brains of these magnificent creatures (USDC, 2012). In March of 2002, in a paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences, the United States Navy accepted the blame for the death of the whales. The Navy identified the cause of the damage to the whales as inadvertent exposure to low frequency active sonar that was being used to standardize that which would be used to detect submarines by the military. The report further outlined that this one event was the largest sound ever introduced into the ocean.
Sonic waves generated by the submarine detection equipment is, but for its size, the same principle upon which the sonogram is based. When administering prenatal ultrasound to determine the sex and growth of the fetus, the fetus is exposed to exactly the same treatment as the whales. The imaging process used by the military was developed from sonar used to ‘see’ objects in the ocean (USDC, 2012). This process is exactly the same when used for fetal imaging which emits short pulses of very high-frequency sound waves that can identify specific characteristics of the fetus by reflecting those waves off the tissue of the fetus (Uhlig, 1999). The return echoes are then converted into an image. Beyond the vibration (the reaction of the tissue to the pulses of the sound), the ultrasound pulses cause a concentration of heating of the denser material of bone and tissue which can range from minimal to intense (Matthews, 2001). Ultrasound technology is based upon ultra-high frequency which bombards the fetus at an extremely high rate of speed. Ultrasound waves in laboratory experiments have been shown to damage chromosomes, produce internal cellular heat which damages the cell wall, and can retard the normal development of cells (Newnham, Evans, Michael, Stanley, and Landau, 1996). The study also indicated that the frequent exposure of the human fetus to ultrasound waves is associated with a decrease in newborn body weight, an increase in left-handedness, and delayed speech. Perhaps the most significant risk being studied is the correlation between prenatal ultrasound and autism. Since 2002, the rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) incidence has risen 80%, and this sharp increase correlates with the rise of ultrasound use which is also near 80% (Rogers, 2006). The heat generated by the ultrasound device affects the central nervous system and causes cell death, and since brain development proceeds in the same manner across mammalian species, it makes this study and many more like it significant to human development (Clancy, Darlington, and Finley, 2001).
It is clear that the research and use are not in sync when addressing the use of prenatal ultrasound. For instance, the American Medical Association (AMA), has established a clear message that the harmful effects of this tool far outweigh the benefits and further recommends that unnecessary exposure be suspended to: (A) confirm the sex of the fetus; (B) assess...