TUCSON, Ariz. - At almost six-years-old, Blake Arnold didn't have the easiest start to life.
"We didn't know he had Downs Syndrome; it was a total surprise to us," says Blake's mother, Kristen Arnold. "When he was born, we had to be medivaced because he not only had a heart defect, but he had a rectal malfunction, so he needed emergency surgery."
That life flight took them off a military base in Okinawa, Japan to the state of Hawaii, so Blake could stabilize.
"He's had ten different surgeries that we have to continue to evaluate and look at where he is health-wise," says Arnold.
On top of all that, Blake's mental development wasn't quite where it should have been for a kid his age.
"Patterns of repetitive behavior. You'll see a lack of social skills. You'll see a lack of social engagement," says Arnold.
We're talking about autism. And that was exactly the "one-two punch"-diagnosis that came down from Phoenix Children's Hospital a few years ago. Health experts say one in 59 children are diagnosed with autism, and there are four levels of the condition, with four being the most intense. That's where we find Blake on the spectrum.
"We're talking about bathing, toileting, personal hygiene. We're talking about social skills. He's just started talking at almost six years old," says Arnold.
And no doubt, challenges like that require some modifications to daily-life.
"Every morning, he eats the same thing, "says Arnold. "Every morning he goes to school, he has support. And in the afternoon we try to keep things pretty similar."
Because autism is a spectrum disorder, every person affected is unique. So treating the condition can be tough. That's where Autism Spectrum Therapies comes in.
"It's critical to have the treatment occur in the home," says Dr. Jessica Belokas, Autism Spectrum Therapies. "We stress and value parent participation and collaboration because they're really the driving force behind the treatment."
Spending time with colorful blocks and videos on an iPad and may seem simple enough, but it's all part of a larger plan that's all about showcasing results.
"We do regular assessments and standardized measures every six months to measure goals that we have assessed and developed with the family," says Belokas. "And so throughout that process, we look at their goals, we report on those goals to the family and to our funding sources."
No doubt, caring for someone with autism is no easy task.
"You have to rely on your community," says Arnold. "You have to rely on people around you to help guide you because you can't do it alone."
But there is hope...
"Looking at where he's come from, a kiddo with an open-heart surgery and all he's had to overcome in his life, to running and playing and jumping and talking and identifying numbers. We've come a long way in five years," says Arnold.
You can call it a story of 'the glass being half-full'. From Asia, to Hawaii, to the desert of Tucson. Here we are, almost six years after Blake was born, making strides in the right direction for someone who's had a difficult, yet inspiring start to his first half-decade on earth.