Assessment, Diagnosis, Therapy, Advocacy
Spark Psychological Services
Laurie Ferguson, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Laurie Ferguson, Psychologist, Inc.
My grandfather was a machinist and tinkerer, and his garage was filled with things that needed fixing -
toasters, car engine parts, radios. I was fascinated by his skill in turning sheets of metal in to things that were
useful and beautiful. He made things run smoother, and he saved things that others thought were beyond repair.
I approach psychological services in much the same way, with the idea that school, work, home life, and relationships can be more fulfilling and coaxed in to running more smoothly through hard work, dedication, skill, support, and creativity. Nobody, and no situation, is "beyond repair." If you are ready to get on the right path and make a change, then let's get to work.
Support and Stragies,
It takes a lot of courage to make the call to a psychologist. I consider it a privilege to become part of your or your loved one's treatment. My style is interactive, directive when it needs to be, and non-judgmental. Only you can truly understand what it is like to walk in your shoes. When counseling or assessing children and teens, parents and caregivers are crucial to treatment. While respecting confidentiality laws and a child's or teen's privacy, I make parents an integral part of the process whenever possible.
You Are The Driver
My grandmother drove an old white station wagon with fins and bright red "pleather" seats. She absolutely loved to drive, and I remember the feeling when I took the wheel of my first car, one that my grandfather fixed up - a junkyard Ford Pinto that he spray painted bright yellow to cover the Bondo filling the dents. Pure bliss.
You are the driver in your therapy or assessment.
You and I work together as a team - on your goals, not mine - and I am up front about
what I believe is needed for you to meet your goals. I coordinate with your physician, school,
and others as needed. If I think that another professional is needed, then I get you connected with that provider.
A Whole Person,
Not "Just A Diagnosis"
I still have the Polaroid camera I bought as a teenager - one of those cameras that spits out a picture and it develops in front of your eyes. Magic. A moment caught in time.
Likewise, a diagnosis does not capture all of you. You or your child is more than a "label" in a medical chart. What a diagnosis may do is open doors to school or agency services, certain types of therapy, or insurance coverage. A diagnosis can help providers "speak the same language" as we work together to help.
When we conduct assessments or work in therapy, we are looking at a moment in time. A snapshot. I am a firm believer in the idea that the past does not have to dictate our future.
Assessment, Diagnosis, Therapy, Advocacy
Assessment & Diagnosis
Help your loved one reach their potential.
Dr. Ferguson specializes in assessment and diagnosis of autism, learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, anxiety, OCD, depression, mood disorders, behavioral issues, chronic pain, and related concerns for children, teens, and adults using "gold standard" measures. Some kids are bright but still have trouble in school. Adults can have trouble in relationships, work, or sometimes in living independently. Maybe you have always thought that something is different for you or your family member, or maybe this is a new issue that cropped up. Let's figure it out and get on the right track. Dr. Ferguson is a privately-contracted assessor for Tri-Counties Regional Center, school districts, attorneys, and families. Evaluations can be completed for Social Security services, supports in school or college, or for your other providers who need more information to better serve you. Click on the Assessment tab above to learn more.
Therapy for children, teens & adults
What are your goals?
Research-based interventions are the foundation of Dr. Ferguson's work, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Play therapy and art therapy are also important ways that children learn to talk about emotions, coping, and getting better. For teens, they are more able to talk about what is happening, although art continues to be an excellent avenue for exploring identity, relationships, goals, and stress resilience. Anxiety, OCD, mood difficulties, and coping with ADHD/ADD are common reasons that individuals of all ages come to see Dr. Ferguson. Adults may also come in to learn about autism in themselves or a loved one. Life can throw us curve balls at any age, so let's get you living the life you envision. Photo credit: Xavier Bailey Photography.
Ever feel like you are going around and around, getting nowhere?
"Systems" can be confusing - schools, courts, regional center, social security, insurance, agencies - What do they do? How do you qualify? Where do I start? Many families are not aware of the possible services they may be eligible for. Often, parents believe that the school will identify any learning issue early on, and address it. Every organization is limited by the things that limit us all -- time, staff, and money. Families need to become their own advocate, and Dr. Ferguson can support you, providing guidance, realistic advice, and assessment or therapy services as needed.
What is Autism?
Is Autism Spectrum Disorder a "disorder" at all?
What about Asperger's?
And where do we start?
Click right for answers.
Can Dr. Ferguson Assess Adults?
Yes! An adult assessment for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes high-functioning Autism and what we used to call Asperger's. Perhaps you are looking for support for issues related to job difficulties, college, relationships, parenting, or independent living. Succeeding in these areas can sometimes be more challenging if you are on the spectrum, while you also have unique strengths. "Masking," or covering up your autistic traits to appear more "neurotypical" (NT), can either help or hinder your functioning, depending on the situation. Sometimes, it is more important for the environment to change, rather than you. Becoming your own self-advocate is important so that you can feel comfortable voicing your needs. Dr. Ferguson can help coordinate with the services you might already receive, and consult with you or your family regarding community resources if you like. Dr. Ferguson communicates in a straightforward, respectful, logical, solution-focused manner to help you achieve your goals. Individual, couples, and family therapy can be provided as needed. Click right for more.
How can I get an assessment?
Email or phone Dr. Ferguson's office at 805-610-8694 to schedule a brief, complimentary discussion directly with Dr. Ferguson. Please be yourself and let Dr. Ferguson know what works for you and doesn't work for you (is email more comfortable than a phone call? Does anxiety make it hard to come to the office?). The same goes for the assessment too: be yourself. Dr. Ferguson wants to make you as comfortable as possible. She will review your needs, your goals for assessment, and any questions you may have. You are welcome to bring a family member or friend with you to the assessment, and support animals are welcome (depending on your goals for assessment, some part(s) of the assessment may be for you only). Your information is kept confidential, and is only released with your written consent, even if someone else pays or makes the appointment for you.
Students struggling to meet their potential
Adults struggling in work and life
What is a learning disability?
What about learning differences?
Click right for answers.
Adults Struggling At Work And Life
Can't stay organized. Losing things, showing up late to work, missing deadlines. At risk of getting fired. Frustration at home and work. Some adults have a hard time with reading and math, or understanding (and remembering) directions. "You have to write it down for me," or "If I can hear it, then I get it." Learning issues can make getting through life frustrating on a daily basis, and can limit your success. There can be related issues, like difficulties with ADD, ADHD, or "executive functions," which help us stay organized and on task. A solid assessment can determine your particular learning style, and how to address difficulties. Click right for more.
What is a Learning Disability?
A Learning Disability is a medical diagnosis, which may mean you are eligible for school- or college-related supports, depending on the severity. There are different kinds of Learning Disabilities, although there is a lot of overlap. If you have dyslexia (a reading disability), that can affect math too, such as word problems. A learning disability in math may mean you also have trouble with telling time, reading maps, and understanding left/right. A Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) can mean that you have trouble understanding communication that isn't verbal, such as reading facial expressions, body language, and other social cues. Some individuals who have trouble completing work on time may have difficulties with executive functions (prioritizing, organizing), or with processing speed. Some people feel strongly that their learning style is not a disability, but a difference. Whether we see learning as a difference or a disability, a proper assessment can figure out your unique learning style so that school or work can be more successful and less frustrating.
Even things that are very important don't get finished. Cell phones get lost, homework he worked hard on is left on the counter, she was fired - again. Everyone is frustrated. Chances are, the individual desperately wants to do better and is not trying to purposefully fail. With ADD or ADHD, it makes life harder for everyone. The first step is to accept the limitations that are part of this brain-based neurological difference. Know that productivity, organization and attention will be inconsistent. Regulation (feeling and behaving in a balanced, "even" manner) is very difficult. But improvement is possible. Click right for more.
"Can't" Pay Attention
People with ADD and ADHD are often extra creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who can focus intensely on their passion (video games, art, science, fixing cars, or...?). Their minds can jump ahead several steps and maybe even think up a great invention, while everyone else is still on problem #1. They are paying attention - just not to what other people think is important. These can be great qualities in entrepreneurs and inventors, but not so much for the student trying to graduate and the employee who needs to pay the rent. We can nurture creativity while helping people to be successful through supportive interventions, therapy, and sometimes medication through their physician. But how do you know if it's ADD / ADHD or something else? Click right for more.
You can live with ADD / ADHD
Some students find that they can show what they know if they have more time on tests, a quieter room for test-taking, help organizing assignments, note taking help in college, priority registration, and maybe tutoring or small-group instruction. At work, chunks of productivity broken up by strategic breaks can help, along with improving planning, organization, memory, and attention skills. Understanding what your unique needs are to keep you optimally alert (not over-energetic, not too relaxed) can improve your studying and work pace. Maybe insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress, or medical issues are exacerbating issues. A solid assessment, treatment plan, and effective strategies for your unique situation can get you on track.
Anxious - or Introvert?
A note on introversion -- it's normal! In fact, some researchers think there are more introverts than extroverts, even though society rewards those who are the life of the party. Introversion is not necessarily problematic and may not need treatment - unless it's causing you stress and holding you back in relationships, work, or school. Sometimes, having a mis-match between your introverted nature and your environment can cause anxiety. Many introverts tell me their ideal environment is a "cabin in the woods," but they need to function in a busy home, school, or office. Through proper assessment, we can figure out what is going to help you to feel most at peace, with or without that cabin. Click right for more.
I'm ready. Sort of.
Working on anxiety can be... anxiety-provoking. Change is hard, until it becomes too unbearable to continue in old patterns. I see myself as a guide. It's your journey, and you decide how fast to go and whether to stop and take in the scenery. Together, we will set goals, make a plan, and help you lead a fuller, more peaceful life. Treatments known to work are used, including empirically-validated cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, and acceptance and commitment therapy. You set the pace.
Why Dr. Ferguson?
What does an assessment involve?
Are there lots of meeting?
So I get a diagnosis - then what?
Click right for answers.
Why Dr. Ferguson?
Dr. Ferguson uses only standardized assessment tools that are widely accepted as the "gold standard" for diagnostic evaluations, including the ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview), and Wechsler Intelligence Scales, among others. Dr. Ferguson completes all aspects of the assessment process herself to ensure quality at every level. You receive a report that explains the findings in detail using clear, understandable language. If applicable, there are graphs and tables with detailed scores and explanations of what the scores mean. This report can help you apply for services and supports, if eligible.
What does assessment include?
Every assessment includes screening for a wide variety of related conditions, including learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social skills issues, oppositional defiance, stress, sleep problems, mood disorders, sensory issues, auditory processing, information processing, planning and organizing abilities, speech and language skills, fine and gross motor skills, trauma, and other concerns. If more in-depth testing is warranted, an assessment plan is developed with you. Sometimes, Dr. Ferguson may refer you to another professional for further testing or treatment, such as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Audiologist, or Neurologist. It is important to look at the "whole person" so that we can develop appropriate testing and treatment strategies.
What does testing involve? Are there a lot of meetings?
The first meeting with Dr. Ferguson is two hours, which actually flies by since there is so much to talk about. There are lots of toys to keep younger children busy. The client (and parents or caregivers) attend, and we have time to speak individually as well. For adult clients, you decide who comes to the assessment - even if someone else is paying. We discuss development, medical conditions, school/college/work history, social skills, mood, behavior, sleep, likes/dislikes, and goals for the assessment. There are questionnaires to fill out and bring to the meeting. Sometimes, we can answer all your questions and determine a diagnosis during that one appointment. If not, we discuss a plan for further testing. If you are coming from out of town, we can try our best to fit your schedule. The report is usually completed three to four weeks following the last assessment session. We will have a feedback session to go over all results and recommendations in understandable language and answer any questions.
To help make you feel at home, the office is filled with books, toys for kids, and cozy places to sit.
Thanks to Royce Construction for the help in knocking down some walls to make our space more welcoming, and Pacific Heating for installing individual heating and cooling units in each therapy room.
Client art shown with permission.
About Dr. Ferguson
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Laurie Ferguson, Psy.D.
photo credit: Xavier Bailey Photography
Thank you for visiting my website to learn more about the services that can help you and your family.
My approach is honest, respectful, solution-focused, and based on understanding your strengths. I use techniques grounded in research and based on best-practice guidelines. All Diagnostic Assessments are completed entirely by myself using "gold standard" assessment tools. Together we can help you achieve your goals.
I have been working in the mental health field helping children, teens, families, and adults since 1996. In 2002 I obtained my doctorate in Clinical Psychology from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Training included an APA-accredited internship at The Children's Hospital in Denver, and a fellowship at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver (now called National Jewish Health). Training also included clinical positions at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the UCSF Child and Family Center, and other out-patient and in-patient settings. Before attending graduate school, I was a mental health worker for the psychiatric units at the San Francisco County Jail and St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco.
I volunteer my time with the Central Coast Autism Spectrum Center, where I was a board member for 9 years. I am a PTA member with my children's schools. I am also a member of the Central Coast Psychological Association.
In my spare time, I love to garden, read, sail, and enjoy the beautiful Central Coast with my family. Fixing up our 1970's ranch house has been a labor of love, and I've become pretty adept at drywall, painting, and finding the right fuse before I attempt minor electrical projects.
Dr. Laurie Ferguson, Psy.D.
5975 Entrada Avenue • Atascadero, CA 93422 (click here for map)
805-610-8694 phone • 805-460-6818 fax
Please read the following before submitting an appointment request:
Dr. Ferguson DOES NOT conduct assessments or testify in court regarding parental fitness, child custody, or visitation.
Dr. Ferguson DOES NOT provide court-ordered therapy or worker's compensation assessments.
Dr. Ferguson DOES NOT treat addictions, substance abuse, or eating disorders.
Dr. Ferguson DOES NOT accept insurance. You will be provided with a Super Bill for you to submit to insurance,
and any reimbursement depends on your insurance plan. See Insurance above for further information.