Child Development and Language Lab

Child Development and Language Lab-Undergraduate Research Internship Class Students stand outside of IHD
Child Development and Language Lab - Undergraduate Research Internship (DIS 485)

In the Child Development and Language Lab, Dr. Spencer and her team conducts research with young children with disabilities and children who are at risk of language and reading problems. Families, teachers and other professionals are often involved in their studies. Researchers employ high quality experimental designs to determine the effects of innovative classroom and behavioral interventions and clinical treatments. They develop and validate practitioner-friendly measurement tools. Dr. Spencer recruits undergraduate and graduate students from education, psychology, and communication science to be research assistants and work collaboratively on projects. Student researchers receive mentorship from Dr. Spencer in both research and practice and get hands-on experience with children. 

Dr. Spencer is a board certified behavior analyst, an early childhood special educator, and language intervention and assessment researcher.  She earned a PhD at Utah State University in Disability Disciplines with an emphasis on language development and a Master’s degree in school psychology. Dr. Spencer has worked with children with disabilities, their teachers, and their families for 13 years. She currently serves as the Research Director at the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University (NAU). She is also a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at NAU. Dr. Spencer has a broad range of interests and experiences; however, her current research involves the development and validation of language and literacy assessment instruments, tiered narrative interventions for children who are at risk of reading problems, and social communication interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  She writes extensively about evidence-based practice and promotes synergistic interdisciplinary relationships.

Current Studies / Projects

  • Predictive Early Assessment of Reading and Language (PEARL): Validity, Reliability, and Feasibility
  • Validating the Test of Narrative Retell (TNR) for First, Second, and Third Grade Students
  • Examining the Efficacy of a Tier 2 Language Intervention on the Academic Promotion of Young English Language Learners (ELLs)
  • The Effects of a Bilingual Narrative Intervention on the Spanish and English Language Development of Preschoolers
  • Differentiating Between Tier 2 and Tier 3 Candidates at the Beginning of Kindergarten
  • Development of a Qualities of Attention Observation Tool (QAOT) to objectively measure teacher-student interactions
  • Modifying Attention Preferences to Increase Classroom Work Completion
  • Systematic Review of Evidenced-based Health Promotion Curricula
  • Systematic Review of Behavioral Interventions for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Select Publications

Spencer, T. D., Kajian, M., Petersen, D. B., & Bilyk, N. (2013). Effects of an individualized narrative intervention on children’s storytelling and comprehension skills. Accepted for publication in Journal of Early Intervention.

Spencer, T. D., Petersen, D. B., Slocum, T. A., & Allen, M. M. (in press). Large group narrative intervention in Head Start classrooms: Implications for response to intervention. Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Noe, S., Spencer, T. D., Kruse, L., & Goldstein, H. (2013). Effects of a tier 3 phonological intervention on preschoolers’ emergent literacy. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. Online First.

Detrich, R. D., Slocum, T. A., & Spencer, T. D. (2013). Evidence-based education and best available evidence: Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. In B. G., Cook, M. Tankersley, & T. J. Landrum, (Eds.). Evidence-based practices: Advances in learning and behavioral disabilities, volume 26 (pp. 21-44). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Spencer, T. D., & Higbee, T. S. (2012). Using script training and transfer of stimulus control procedures to promote generalization and spontaneity of language. FOCUS on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 27(4), 225-236.

Petersen, D. B., & Spencer, T. D. (2012). The Narrative Language Measures: Tools for language screening, progress monitoring, and intervention planning. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 19(4), 119-129.

Spencer, T. D., Detrich, R., & Slocum, T. A. (2012). Evidence-based practice: A framework for effective decisions. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 127-151.

Gardner, A. W., Spencer, T. D., Boelter, E. W., DuBard, M., & Jennett, H. K. (2012). A systematic review of brief functional analysis methodology with typically developing children. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 313-332. 

Slocum, T. A., Detrich, R., & Spencer, T. D. (2012). Evaluating the validity of evidence based practice review systems. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 201-233.

Slocum, T. A., Spencer, T. D., & Detrich, R. (2012). Best available evidence: Three complementary approaches. (Special Issue) Education and Treatment of Children, 35(2), 153-181.

Spencer, E., Spencer, T., Goldstein, H., & Schneider, N. (2012). Identifying early literacy learning needs: Implications for child outcome standards and assessment systems. In T. Shanahan & C. J. Lonigan (Eds.), Early Childhood Literacy: The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond (pp.45-70). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Spencer, T. D., & Slocum, T. A. (2011). Maximizing conversational independence using script training: Generalizing outside the research base. EBP Briefs, 6(1), 1-8.

Spencer, T. D., & Slocum, T. A. (2010). The effect of a narrative intervention on story retelling and personal story generation skills of preschoolers with risk factors and narrative language delays. Journal of Early Intervention, 32(3), 178-199.

Watkins, C. L., Slocum, T. A., & Spencer, T. D. (2010). Direct Instruction: Relevance and applications to behavioral autism treatment. In E. A. Mayville & J. A. Mulick (Eds.), Behavioral Foundations (pp. 297-319). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.