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Fox 7 newscaster founds autism charity

Gary Dinges, Static

Staff Writer
Austin 360

When you see Loriana Hernandez advocating for autism research, she's not just lending her name to a random charity.

For her, it's personal.

Hernandez's 6-year-old niece, Maggie, was diagnosed with autism a few years ago, prompting the Fox 7 anchor to start Maggie's Hope, which offers support — emotional and financial — to families of autistic children.

"It's very near and dear to my heart," she said. "I have been blessed to be able to help a lot of people."

Hernandez said many families can't afford therapy for autism, a disorder that affects a child's social and communication skills. In her case, she was giving thousands of dollars to help with Maggie's treatment — even selling her home to come up with extra cash.

In the U.S., one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls is diagnosed with autism, according to figures from the Autism Speaks organization.

"You can have an income of $40,000 or $200,000, and you will use every penny of it," she said. "It's heartbreaking."

Maggie's Hope helps out by paying for therapy and other needed items. Initially, families were given $500 each. The amount can vary, though. In one case last year, an adopted family received $10,000 in assistance.

There's an application process, Hernandez said, and while preference is given to Central Texans, the organization does offer aid to families living elsewhere.

"They need you to pay for speech therapy, horseback-riding therapy and iPads — things like that," she said.

The iPads, Hernandez said, can be used to help autistic children communicate with their parents.

"That's how they talk," she said.

Advocacy is an important part of Maggie's Hope's mission, as well. For example, many parents, according to Hernandez, have trouble getting needed services from schools.

"If someone writes in and needs help, we try to give them the help they need," she said

For more details on Maggie's Hope, visit maggieshope.org.

CW reboots '80s series

Austin, meet Austin.

Actor Austin Basis is one of the featured players on "Beauty and the Beast," a new series coming this fall to the CW network.

"Beauty and the Beast" follows the oh-so-complicated relationship between a police detective and a doctor who becomes "a terrifying beast, unable to control his super-strength and heightened senses" when enraged. The two have feelings for each other, but, as you might expect, things are a bit complicated.

"It's a dark romance with a little bit of a superhero twist," Basis said.

The show is an update of a CBS drama with the same name that ran 25 years ago.

"Several people at the network were fans of the original show," he said. "They've been trying to find a time and a place to do it."

Shooting will start soon in Toronto, Basis said, and the show premieres Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. in the coveted post-"Vampire Diaries" time slot on the CW.

Channel surfing ...

Morning and midday anchor Melissa Gale has departed KVUE. Gale announced in mid-May that she was leaving the station after 14 years. Anchor-reporter Jessica Vess has been filling in. ... Read my blog at austin360.com/tvblog or follow @gdinges on Twitter to get the latest updates on local radio and TV stations.

Contact Gary Dinges at gdinges@statesman.com or 912-5987