Grandparents care for nearly 200,000 American children with disabilities. But with limited income and health issues of their own, parenting a child with special needs can be particularly demanding for this crowd.

Gail Ertel knows the hurdles all too well. A 60-something widow, Ertel is mom to her 7-year-old great granddaughter, McKenzie, who has autism and is medically fragile. Ertel provides 24-hour care for the girl, arranging her schooling, making sure she gets the occupational therapy she needs and helping her learn to use a cane.

But as a solo caregiver to a girl whose needs are so great that she can’t even go to school — teachers come to her instead — Ertel relies on Social Security and Medicaid to pay the rent, cover health costs and put food on the table. She has virtually no relief without any funding to pay for respite care and McKenzie can’t be left alone for even a few minutes. The little girl might put something in her mouth.

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Like many parents, Ertel worries what will become of McKenzie when she’s no longer able to care for her. But for Ertel, that day could easily come before McKenzie reaches adulthood. After all, Ertel already raised 11 children of her own. In the meantime, though, Ertel is deeply devoted to the little girl who she spends nearly every waking moment with, reports The Washington Post. To read more click here.