After her son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, Jan Johnston-Tyler began researching the topic and realized little was being done to treat people with the disorder.
So the former Cisco Systems (CSCO) manager quit her job, earned a master's degree in counseling and in 2007 launched EvoLibri, a Santa Clara-based service for teens and adults with Asperger and related disorders.
The company, which often helps its clients find and keep jobs at tech and other companies, has assisted more than 500 people and has a current case-load of about 100, according to Johnston-Tyler. She talked about the fee-based service and her decision to start it in a recent interview, which was edited for length and clarity.
Q: You help what you call "neurodiverse individuals". Who are they?
A: We define them as people who have brains that work differently -- people with ADHD, mood disorders, Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism. They tend to be very bright --sometimes really bright -- but their brains work a little differently and, thus, life can be a little difficult for them. So we help smooth out those difficulties.
Q: Can you talk about how your son -- who's now at the University of Denver majoring in chemistry and physics -- inspired you to start the company.
A: He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 4 and it was a new diagnosis to psychologists so people didn't really know what to do about it. Being a problem solver, I figured out what would help him and as I did that work I realized, wow, there are services for little kids and school-age kids, but nothing for teenagers and nothing for adults. So I though it would be interesting to see what kind of services would help them.
Q: What is the upper age of your clients?
A: The oldest I've had was 72. He was a late-diagnosis person with Asperger who has gone through three marriages and has seven kids who won't talk to him. He's kept his job at Lawrence Livermore lab the entire time, because he's a brilliant engineer.
Q: What sort of problems do your working clients have?
A: Problems such as communication, time management, organization and rigidity of thought, so they tend not to be flexible in their thinking. Problems we encounter in the workplace typically would be things like not understanding social boundaries, not understanding chain of command, not understanding how the protocol works for problem solving and when to just accept things that you're not going to be able to change.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: We had a client we placed at a high-tech firm and one of his first assignments was to create a little excel script that did something. It worked and they rolled it out and he was in a meeting and a manager in another department in this meeting said, "you know, that script is really great and I'm using it for something completely different." And the employee said, "but that's not the way it's supposed to be used." He was very rigid.
Q: What is your success rate?
A: That's hard to quantify. We can make people successful for a short period, but then -- especially with things like bipolar --they can crash and burn again. We're thrilled when we place somebody in a job. We're thrilled when a family is working again and the kid is not in stress and back in school. We don't really have a quantifiable metric, but I would say 95 percent of the time we definitely make a positive impact.
Q: How is your business doing?
A: It's doing really well. This is a boot-strapped organization. This is all my money and it was really dicey for a while, I sold a lot of stock to keep this thing afloat. I've taken every penny I've had and put it back into the company, so I could hire people and keep up with demand. But this is the first year where I've not had to make any infusions and we're looking really, really good. It's skyrocketing. We are the only company in the United States that does the breadth of services that we provide. We have clients who come all the way from Napa. We have a client who flies up from Temecula. I Skype sessions with clients who are out of state because nobody else is doing this type of work.
Contact Steve Johnson at email@example.com or 408-930-5043. Follow him at Twitter.com/steveatmercnews
Title: CEO of EvoLibri in Santa Clara
Previous jobs: mid-level manager and business lead for electronic publishing at Cisco Systems; technical writer/manager at Hughes LAN Systems, DHL Systems, and Juniper Networks.
Family: Her son, Liam, is 20 and her daughter, Maia, is 11.
Residence: Mountain View
Five things to know about Jan Johnston-Tyler
1. She moved with her family to the Bay Area in 1962, when her father worked at Ampex, which made recording devices.
2. She worked briefly as a chef in Berkeley's gourmet ghetto after graduating from college.
3. She won a Smithsonian-Computerworld award in 1999 for her digital-publishing work at Cisco Systems
4. She has published a book she wrote, "The Mom's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and Related Disorders."
5. She enjoys playing video games