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No, he ain’t heavy — he’s my brother

SHARE No, he ain’t heavy — he’s my brother

PARK CITY — Ask Jake Larsen about the best way to handle his older brother Andy and he'll meet you with a blank stare.

What do you mean, how to handle Andy?

"Treat him normal," says Jake.

Treat him the way you'd treat any brother.

Don't let him get away with anything.

Don't give him the upper hand if you can possibly help it.

And, of course, only loan him money if you never want to see it again.

The fact that Andy is autistic and mentally challenged doesn't change a thing.

Hey, all brothers have something to put up with.

For treating Andy like a brother, no more and no less, Jake Larsen has been named Sibling of the Year by the Family Links Conference, sponsored by the Utah Network of Families on Disabilities.

If every Andy had a Jake, the world would be a better place.

Also, if every Jake had an Andy.

"He's always been there for me," says Jake of Andy. "Good day, bad day, doesn't matter. He's there. Andy's given me a life."

Andy is 22, Jake is 18. Ever since Jake was born, they have been more or less inseparable.

That would include a year ago, when Andy made his break from the family home and got his own apartment.

Everyone agreed it was a wise move for Andy, who is autistic, to get his own place and become as self-sufficient as possible. He could still come home on weekends, and his family would be only a mile or so away, but by moving he would make the important life change to responsibility, self-reliance and knowing how to pour your own cereal.

The biggest obstacle was the one thing autistic people dread more than anything: change. They hate change like the Sierra Club hates change.

The Larsens thus had a dilemma on their hands: Once Andy got used to his new place, he wouldn't want to leave; but he'd have to get used to it first.

Which is where Jake stepped in.

He moved into the apartment with Andy. Every night he would sleep there, and every morning he'd help Andy get ready for the day before Jake would move on to his senior year of classwork at Park City High School.

It was the busiest time of high school — the springtime of Jake Larsen's final year. Everything was going on. But each weekday night, for nearly three months, he spent at his brother's new place, turning it from an apartment into a home.

People praise Jake for the things he does for his brother. Not just the apartment episode, but the way he constantly gives him his time and attention, the way he laughs at his jokes, the way he talks to him and listens to him.

Jake is gracious and says thanks. When he was named Sibling of the Year, he said he was honored to be so honored.

Still, he wonders what all the fuss is about.

Who wouldn't want to live in an apartment with his brother? Jake asks. Who wouldn't want to stay up nights and hang with a guy who is "the funniest person on Earth?"

"For as long as I can remember," says Jake of himself and his brother, "we've leaned on each other."

And for that, they named him Sibling of the Year.

Not only that, but the Park City-based social worker who works with Andy, Gail Saloway, was named Professional of the Year.

Add it up. Andy Larsen's brother is Sibling of the Year and his social worker is Professional of the Year.

So let's see. Wonder what that makes Andy.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.