PIEDMONT -- Sabrina Smith, a parent of a special-needs child, knows the feeling of social isolation that comes when other kids realize her child is different.
When her son was in preschool, he was invited to birthday parties along with rest of the class as is the practice.
But as he got older, the invitations stopped.
"It suddenly became clear that people were not inviting my son to birthday parties because they did not want to spend time with him out of school, " she said. "And that was very, very hard."
Smith's story resonated with other parents who took part in a unique program, "Thinking Differently, Talking about Neurodiversity," at Piedmont High School on Jan 30.
A panel of five parents shared their experiences, partly to pass on information about how their children fit into the school system and to build a sense of community with other families.
The event was sponsored by three organizations, Advanced Learners Program Support, Piedmonters for Resources, Advocacy and Information in Special Education and the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee.
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the wide variety of differences in how children's brains function and how they learn.
The parents who spoke described their children as having a variety of neurological conditions from cerebral palsy to the many forms of autism.
Most clinicians would describe the children as disabled but neurodiversity recognizes those traits as different rather than as a barrier to learning and functioning in society.
Too often neurodiverse people are labeled as unable to achieve or withdrawn, but that is the wrong perspective, said Ekira Clowes, a parent and clinical writer.
"We figure out what is normative and here's all the deficits and that's the definition of normal," she said. "That's the wrong way to go on so many levels."
Knowing how far to push your special-needs child can be a challenge, Smith said.
"We want him to reach his potential," she said. "We want to encourage him and support him, but we don't want every experience to be one of frustration."
Maria Topete said her son is neurodiverse and a whiz at computers. Topete said he has learned to "expect the unexpected" from him but said, "We love him just the way he is.
"My wish for him is to be happy with who he is and be comfortable with who he is," she said.
"And when he grows up to be a happy, contributing adult."
The parents encouraged others to invite their children on play dates, and find out more about how neurodiversity works.
Parent and counselor Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who helped organize the event, said one of the workshop's goals was creating a community for neurodiverse kids and their parents.
"We could all shake our heads and say, 'Yes, we don't get invited to the birthday parties and all those kinds of things,' and that's a reality," she said.
"Part of this is to bring an awareness and, like I said, don't be afraid to invite the kid over and ask the questions so that we have a sense that we are all in it together."