''Tales from a Human Warehouse'' has a rousing message for the somebodies of this world about the nobodies: Be hopeful, be patient. As a teacher of institutionalized retarded persons, Mrs. Welsh helped her students learn to help themselves. And through this book she helps others become aware of how much effort the retarded can make in their own behalf.
Her book recounts proud victories in even harsh, seemingly loveless environments: the beautiful marriage of Mr. Peterson and Annette, two former institutional residents who were able to establish and maintain a home ''outside''; the business scheme of a young inmate who everyday faked his birthday and received monetary gifts from sympathetic visitors (his only means of making money); the discovery and rescue of a high-IQ boy who was deaf, not retarded; one mother's skill in transforming a sorry lot of teen-age ragamuffins into proud dressers.
But there are tougher tales, too, and none more so than ''The Man Who Chose Darkness.'' This tragic episode concerns a professional man, under stress, who denied his need for help, and thus became increasingly submerged in a problem which the author was convinced could be cured.
''People with special needs'' (a euphemism for the orthopedically and mentally handicapped) have a champion in Mrs. Welsh. So do ordinary people wrestling with extraordinarily difficult circumstances. After reading this book, one emerges aware of how blurred the line can be between the two groups.
The text is gentle, considering the brutality of ''warehousing'' (institutionalizing) those who can learn to be independent, given encouragement and basic job skills. It's laced with healthy humor. And it's dominated throughout by the author's view of her students as graced with potentialities, whatever burdens they bear.
I wish the text might have been edited more carefully; some redundancies and punctuation errors annoyed me. But why carp? The narrative is jargon-free.
The author is too modest to use so vast a word as love in explaining how her subjects were salvaged. But clearly love was the key. Teachers, parents, and other nurturers, take note.