Interview with Kathy Dow-Burger on the Social Interaction Group Network for UMD Students with Autism (SIGNA)

In this interview, we discuss the SIGNA program with Kathy Dow-Burger. Kathy is the Associate Clinical Professor and Speech-Language Pathologist at the Hearing & Speech Clinic at UMD. Read more to learn about the Social Interaction Group Network for UMD students with Autism, Kathy’s motivation and inspiration, and how to get in touch.
TTC: Thank you for agreeing to interview with us! Tell us a little about how your position supports UMD students wellness.
  • KDB: As the developer and overseer of the Social Interaction Group Network for UMD students with Autism (SIGNA) our team helps to support students on campus who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or a Social Language Pragmatic disorder. It is estimated that approximately 200 University students have ASD here at UMD. Many benefit from receiving help with social interaction, executive functioning (e.g., planning/organization, prioritization, time management, problem solving), and/or self-advocacy skills. When students with ASD experience difficulty in any or all of these areas, they are at high risk of becoming too overwhelmed. This can make it hard to catch up. As a result, a Domino Effect may occur and the student with ASD may experience a high degree of anxiety, depression and/or sleeplessness. SIGNA’s coaches and mentors help the student with skill development as well as help them identify the need to self-correct maladaptive behaviors.
TTC: What are some of the specific services or programs that SIGNA offers to help students maintain their wellness or mental health?
  • KDB: The SIGNA program is comprehensive in that a student with ASD receives 4 hours/week of support in individual work with a communication coach, group work with peer coaches, as well as check-ins with a peer mentor. For a student with ASD, this time offers a way to develop individual skills, share experiences within a group setting with people who may similar experiences and, be able to carry-over skills in real-life situations.
TTC: What pulled you in to this position and this line of work?
  • KDB: My position has many facets that allow me to help many people and, be a life-long learner. There truly is never a dull moment. I get to work with and train a large team of graduate and undergraduate students in the field of speech-language pathology and be able to still use my clinical skills to model and teach various therapeutic strategies to students with ASD.
TTC: What one message would you want to get out to students? 
  • KDB: People with ASD seem like they do not want to interact socially, but in many cases they do; they just don’t know how to. As a peer on campus, I want to encourage you to take the time to get to know someone with autism and be patient in allowing this person to get to know you. We all have something different about us and, if we truly want to embrace diversity and inclusion, be open to getting to know your neuro-diverse peers as well.
TTC: What do you do to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing?
  • KDB: There are so many things I do to maintain my own mental health, balance, and comprehensive well-being. This is just a snapshot of what I do: I make sure to spend the most time with people who are positive and encouraging and, if possible, try not to hang around negative people who talk badly of me or others around me. I also take time to volunteer with various programs that help those who are marginalized in society. In addition, I take time to count my blessings. The more I do it, I realize I have so much more to be thankful for. Finally, as a Jesus follower, I pray each morning, listen to inspiring music, and spend quiet time journeling scriptures and thoughts. I’ve learned not to be self-conscious of who I am, even if I’m different from many other people. That all goes along the same line as valuing others for who they are. Viva la difference!
TTC: How can students access the services you and your office provide?
  • KDB: SIGNA can be accessed through the Hearing and Speech Sciences Clinic in LeFrak Hall by calling 301-405-4218 or emailing