How to get to Sesame Street

In her first semester at Stanford University, Laura Klinger’s social work course required a volunteer experience in a community classroom with students with autism. She’s been driven to help people with autism and their families ever since.

At the time, she never could have imagined she would help Sesame Street, a leader in child learning since its launch in the late 1960s, bring a character with autism to television audiences.

She earned a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, completed a one-year internship at UNC’s TEACCH Autism Program and became a leading clinical autism researcher.

Klinger returned to Chapel Hill in 2011 for her “dream job”—leading TEACCH. Not long after, Sesame Street approached Klinger to join an advisory board to help create resources for families with children with autism. When Sesame Street wanted to introduce Julia, a character with autism, they asked Klinger to give feedback on scripts.

“I saw the first episode at the same time everyone else saw it, and they did it! It was perfect. It was exactly what we would recommend… I think that you’ll see this sort of awareness and acceptance across the lifespans, and that’s why I’m so excited. That’s huge.”

TEACCH Autism Program supports children with autism and their families from across the entire state of North Carolina. Through seven regional clinics, all under the UNC-Chapel Hill umbrella, TEACCH fulfills its mission of community-based service and outreach informed by best practices developed through clinical research. In 2012, Carolina was ranked as the No. 1 public university for autism research by Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.

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