No Right Way to Talk: Helping those we serve make their voices heard, too

David Moreau

I bring Donnie and Louise into WAI to get the dry mops.  All the participants are sitting politely at a big table.  They each have a piece of orange construction paper placed in front of them. They wait while two staff people are over at their desks cutting brown strips of paper. As we squeeze by, Noelle says to me in her little girl’s voice, “You lose your power?”

We had a heckuva storm last night. Wind and rain.  Everyone’s been talking about losing their power. I was just about to answer her when one of the staff people across the room says firmly, “Noelle, TALK like an ADULT.”

As I pass by the staff person I ask, “How is that not like an adult?”

“It’s the way she says it.”

I want to ask, “What are the criteria for how an adult talks?”  “How are you helping Noelle to recognize her own adult voice by yelling at her across a room in front of other people?”  and “Does everyone here want to be making orange pumpkins out of construction paper?”

But I don’t ask.  Instead, I steer Donnie and Louise back out into the hallway with their dry mops, where I’ll give them the cues, “two hands are better than one” and “it helps to look where you’re mopping.”

As we pass her, Noele is holding her head down and this time she says nothing.