University of Maryland
The University of Maryland has strong and effective policies and practices for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Social Justice, and Accessibility (DEISJA). The Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences leads has many programs of inclusion of all identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, SES, disability, immigration status).

Neurodiversity and Autism Transition Services (NATS) in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences

Initiative Categories


Focus Areas

  • Cultural Responsiveness
  • Disability
  • Health Equity
  • Mentoring
  • Neurodiversity
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Trauma Informed Care


The University of Maryland (UMD) in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) has developed a successful clinical program to help students succeed, called the Neurodiversity and Autism Transition Services (NATS) with the support of a $1, 125,000 endowment from UMD alum, Martin and Dina Friedman. Three NATS innovative skills training programs are embedded in the HESP Clinic: The Social Interaction Group Network for All (SIGNA) for UMD college students and the Executive Functioning for Effective Cognitive Transformation (EFFECT) and the Program for the modified Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERSⓇ) for high school students (lessons that encourage masking were removed and replaced with self-advocacy and disclosure lessons).

These programs are fee-based and offer need-based scholarships. They all provide speech-language individual and group therapies as well as additional support to autistic and other neurodivergent young adults and adolescents. What is unique about these programs is their 3-fold approach where they 1) provide therapy to underserved autistic populations, 2) offer clinical training to HESP (and other majors) undergraduates, Master’s candidates, PhD students, clinical fellows, and early career SLPs and, 3) provide practice-based and evidence-based therapy methods.

Since 2016, the number of students in the SIGNA, EFFECT, and modified-PEERSⓇ clinical programs who received therapy and hands-on clinical training has increased exponentially. Over 200 adolescents, young adults, and parents have received therapeutic services and support through these programs. We have teens who have participated in EFFECT and modified-PEERSⓇ accepted into colleges, universities, and other career paths entering with confidence and competence. In addition, we have SIGNA alum who are interning at NASA Goddard Space Center, employed with Accenture, Mitre Corporation, Northrop Grumman, and the US Government Accountability Office to name a few. Finally, through these innovative programs, more than 380 college students have been trained in HESP and other departments as well as mentored as PhD/PsyD, clinical fellows and early career speech-language pathologists.

For More Information

See the Neurodiversity and Autism Transition Services (NATS) website, watch a video about the SIGNA program, or contact Kathy Dow-Burger at

This initiative was submitted on May 5, 2024.

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