Touring for Duty For a traveling SLP stationed in Brussels, the range of clients’ languages and cultures is her lifeblood. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   January 01, 2018
Touring for Duty
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader.
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   January 01, 2018
Touring for Duty
The ASHA Leader, January 2018, Vol. 23, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23012018.30
The ASHA Leader, January 2018, Vol. 23, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.23012018.30
Name: Lisa Lunsford, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: Speech-language pathologist, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
Hometown: Mons, Belgium
One day a week, Lisa Lunsford packs up her car so she can travel to see remote clients on her caseload. Seems like a typical day for a speech-language pathologist providing early intervention services, right? Not the case. Lunsford drives to three different countries in a day.
She lives in Belgium, so the commute to Netherlands and Germany takes only around five hours.
The rest of her workweek she stays closer to home, about an hour south of Brussels. But her sessions still involve clients from various countries whose families usually speak multiple languages. Lunsford has been living and treating young children of military families stationed overseas for more than a decade, but her current assignment at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) base means broadening her skill set even further.
“I really get to look at how other languages develop and find resources in these families’ home languages,” Lunsford says. “It’s a fun challenge!”

“I really get to look at how other languages develop and find resources in these families’ home languages.”

Serving her country, and dozens more
Just finding resources in Czech, Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Polish or other languages tests the SLP’s sleuthing skills. And once she finds a picture book in Polish, for example, how does she know if it’s any good for the goals she hopes to help her client reach?
“I talk with parents to help me determine if materials I find will work for their child,” Lunsford says. “I also build a network of families I can use to vet materials for others.”
Her clients’ parents usually understand the importance of language—most of them know two or three—and speak English fluently, so Lunsford feels comfortable reaching out to them. This connection also boosts family buy-in for her evaluation and treatment approaches.
She also admires the typical family’s participation with carryover and practice assignments. Even the active-duty parent gets involved. Lunsford explains that the U.S. Army, which supervises her civilian assignment, encourages and provides time for parents’ involvement in their children’s daily lives. She adds that military families’ willingness to take their kids everywhere also helps.
“Most families—even those with young children with special needs—travel,” Lunsford says. “So the kids learn how to act in public at an early age. You can’t expect a child to sit through a meal quietly unless you take them out.”
Lunsford began her career as a civilian working with the military at the right time. Her original job in Europe came through a private contracting company in 2002, Sterling Medical Overseas, when U.S. military presence abroad was high—and so were salaries ( Many foreign bases have closed since then, so Lunsford switched to the General Services Administration, a government agency that places civilians mostly on Army bases. The salary isn’t as high, but she enjoys the stability of working for the federal government and earning seniority.

Clients’ parents usually understand the importance of language—most of them know two or three—and speak English fluently.

Knowledge for herself—and her clients
Moving every few years gives Lunsford the chance to hone her abilities—especially her cultural competency skills—and learn new ones while exploring the world. She also frequently encounters the unknown, both in her personal and professional life.
Not long into her first overseas assignment in England, trying to change a light bulb brought her to tears. Now she views those challenges—how to find American TV shows, sussing out a good hairdresser, figuring out foreign appliances—as adventures.
Professional challenges often involve setting up a client and family for continuation of services when they move. Lunsford’s assignments normally last at least three years and often five, so her moves don’t affect her clients as much as their relocations. By the time Lunsford gets a referral, a child is usually around 2 years old and the family is often a year or less away from reassignment. Also, if a child receives a diagnosis of a more severe delay, such as autism spectrum disorder, the family gets moved within months to a stateside base that has appropriate specialists.
To help ease these transitions, as well as ensure continuation of services, she gives parents information and resources—including those specifically for military families (—sooner than she would for clients she knows she’ll see longer. The SLP also pushes annual evaluations and related paperwork through as quickly as possible, so families have everything they need to get treatment started in their new location.
“The big caveat with early intervention is that individual family service plans—unlike IEPs—aren’t federal documents,” Lunsford says, “so every time a family moves, their child has to be completely reassessed and might not qualify for services at all.”
Her military supervisor can change frequently—they also get reassigned every few years—and, according to Lunsford, their management styles vary widely.
Living and working abroad with benefits
Perks of Lunsford’s job include lots of travel (professional and personal), a good pay scale, housing allowance, great health care and paid leave, plus the chance to experience how other people live. She enjoys visiting the grocery store on her NATO base, for example, because they devote aisles of specialty foods to most member countries.
Lunsford also appreciates the advantages of working with military families. She knows the same instability that can make treating a young child challenging can also build increased flexibility and coping skills within that child, as well as in their family.
“I hope to keep this lifestyle,” Lunsford says. “I love my job, and the list keeps getting longer of places I want to visit.”
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January 2018
Volume 23, Issue 1