Professor Jonathan Delafield-Butt



Personal statement

Jonathan Delafield-Butt is Professor of Child Development and Director of the cross-disciplinary Laboratory for Innovation in Autism at the University of Strathclyde. His work examines the origins of conscious experience and the embodied and emotional foundations of psychological development, with attention to the subtle but significant motor disruption evident in autism spectrum disorder. He took his Ph.D. in Developmental Neurobiology at the University of Edinburgh Medical School before extending to Developmental Psychology with application of intersubjectivity theory in postdoctoral work at the Universities of Edinburgh and Copenhagen. He held scholarships at Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Edinburgh for science-philosophy bridgework. Delafield-Butt trained pre-clinically in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy at the Scottish Institute for Human Relations. He is a member of the World Association for Infant Mental Health, the International Society for Autism Research, and the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Gothenburg. His lab advances an ecological, embodied understanding of the mind and works to develop bespoke wearable and smart device serious games to characterise the motor disruption in autism spectrum disorder, and its social and psychological consequences.

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Prize And Awards

CompleNet Best poster award
Strathclyde Team Medal for Innovation in Autism
Outstanding Reviewer Award

More prizes and awards


Pre-clinical Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Scottish Institute for Human Relations (2009)

Ph.D. in Developmental Neurobiology, University of Edinburgh (2003)

M.Sc. in Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh (1998)

B.Sc. (Hons) Medicinal Chemistry, University of Leeds (1996)

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My teaching covers early psychological development from foetal life through to early childhood, with emphasis on the importance of social and emotional experience for health and learning.  I teach on the following courses:

M.Sc. in Early Years Pedagogy -- The Connected Child (module lead).

B.A. Childhood Practice -- Emotional and Social Development (module lead, one of two phase two modules).

B.A. Primary Education/Psychology/HaSS -- Learners and Learning.


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Research Interests

I am interested in the development of children's agency and its origins evident in intentional movements from before birth.  I am interested in how these movements develop and how children engage with feeling and emotion in embodied projects with other persons to co-create and to share meaning.  I am interested fundamentally in the origins of this creative agency in evolution and in biology, and how it can be different in cases of developmental disorders such as autism, or in cases of familial stress.  I am interested in the neurobiological origins of these organismic capacities, and the kinds of whole systems properties required to generate them.  In sum, I am interested in the raw nature of what it means to be alive as a generative, active being, and the importance in human society of our structured and social worlds in shaping that experience.

This scholarship has extended in recent years into useful innovation in identification of an autism-specific motor signature that appears to be invariant across development.  This signature can be captured in children’s iPad gameplay and with machine learning and artificial intelligence analytics used to identify children likely to be autistic.  This technology has together with the underpinning scholarly rationale that intentional movement is a fundamental property of conscious living organisms formed the basis of the award-winning, cross-disciplinary Laboratory for Innovation in Autism.  This lab works with educators, psychologists, psychiatrists and engineers to better understand autism through innovation of new motor theory, technology to identify autism, and in practice through therapy and inclusive pedagogy.   

I am founder and director of the Laboratory for Innovation in Autism together with Professors Phil Rowe (BME), Ivan Andonovic (EEE) and Christos Tachtatzis (EEE).  Please see the Laboratory web pages for more details.

Research Projects:

  • Philosophy of Mind
    • Organisms and Their Choices discussion group funded by RSE, with Edinburgh, Oxford, Tartu, and others.
    • Normativity in the Origin of Mind, funded by the Spanish Government, with Navarra and membership from Berkeley, Edinburgh, Connecticut, and others.
  • The Autism Motor Signature
    • Machine learning iPad Identification of Autism, Phase 3 diagnostic trial, with Glasgow, Gothenburg, Aberdeen, and Warsaw
    • Prospective motor control and kinematic analyses
    • Network analyses
  • Neuroimaging Brainstem in Autism
    • 7T MRI to identify individual nuclei size, shape, and connectivity, with Glasgow and the NHS-Glasgow University Imaging Centre of Excellence
    • 3T MRI comparing ASD and DCD brainstem volume and shape, with USC and Pisa.
  • Inclusive Education
    • Improving lived experience for autistic children in schools.
    • Inclusion of physical activity and active play for autistic children.
    • Comparative analysis of inclusive practice in Scottish schools, and in Catalan.


Ph.D. Students – if you are a talented scholar or researchers inspired in any of the above areas, I will be happy to supervise your doctoral research.

Postdoctoral Fellowships/Posts – if you are a talented scholar or researcher inspired in any of the above areas, I will be happy to work with you to support you to find the best funding possible, usually through Fellowship or Research Grant application. 

Jobs Available – When we have funded PhD or postdoc positions available, these will be advertised on X and the University jobs pages.    


Professional Activities

World Congress of the World Association for Infant Mental Health (Event)
The Well-Connected Child
Moving in Autism: From Infant Intentions to Shared Meaning
Infant Intentions as the Origin of Shared Meaning
Infant Intentions as the Origin of Shared Meaning
Removing Barriers to Inclusion for Autistic Children: Educational, psychological, and neurological perspectives

More professional activities


Normativity and the Origin of Mind
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator)
The project is a structured conversation between scientists and philosophers about the kind of normativity that is essential to mind and the minimal conditions for its emergence. The main question is: What is the most rudimentary form of normatively guided behavior and how is it realized? The project focuses on three approaches to this “normativity question”: enactive theory (EN), ecological psychology (EP), and teleodynamics (TD). The goal of the project is to clarify the normativity question and contribute to the development of these approaches by bringing them into close conversation with one another and with philosophical perspectives on normativity.

In the first year, five scientists—Terrence Deacon, Jonathan Delafield-Butt, James Dixon, Marek McGann, and Joanna Raczaszek-Leonardi—will present working papers that address the main question from perspectives informed by one or more of the three selected approaches (EN, EP, TD).

Then, in the second year, six philosophers—Pauline Phemister, Tina Röck, and Mog Stapleton, plus the three research team members (Miguel, Javier, and I)—will respond to these working papers from a variety of perspectives (phenomenological, Leibnizian, Whiteheadian, Aristotelian, etc.).

In the third and final year, participants will be invited to present a revised version of their working papers at a small conference to be organized here at the University of Navarre. The papers will then be submitted together for publication in a special issue (most likely Adaptive Behavior).
02-Jan-2023 - 30-Jan-2026
Strathclyde-2m/SCRIBE: An Autism Innovation Inward Investment
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator)
Application to the Scottish Inward Investment Catalyst Fund
24-Jan-2022 - 23-Jan-2022
The brainstem in autism: A pilot 7T MRI neuroimaging study (SINAPSE)
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator) Rowe, Philip (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2020 - 31-Jan-2022
Cerebellar disruption in neurodevelopmental disorders (Yu Wei Chua)
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2019 - 31-Jan-2021
Living Organisms and Their Choices
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Co-investigator) Phemister, Pauline (Principal Investigator) Wheeler, Wendy (Co-investigator)
This interdisciplinary project brings together biologists who recognize that organisms have sensory awareness of their surroundings and engage in purposeful, goal-directed behaviour, biosemioticians researching meaning and signs in nature, and philosophers researching the concept of life and mental representation in living organisms. We seek to arrive at a better understanding of individual organisms (from bacteria to humans) as essentially relational, interconnected, communicative, feeling, sensing, experiencing and agentic beings. We look to understand how organisms represent and interpret their environments and how they might construct models of possible future environments to use when ‘choosing’ or ‘deciding’ to pursue one course of action or move in one direction rather than another. Our overall aim is to prepare the ground for the development of a new integrated philosophical and scientific paradigm that can account for the presence of feeling and emotion in all living beings and for their intentional agency and influence.

Project team:

Lead Investigator: Prof Pauline Phemister (Philosophy, University of Edinburgh)

Co-Investigators: Prof Wendy Wheeler (English, London Metropolitan University/ Schumacher College), Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt (Education, University of Strathclyde)

International Network: Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder (Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Scottish Rural College), Dr Patrick Walsh (Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Edinburgh), Prof Anthony Trewavas (Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, Edinburgh), Dr Lloyd Strickland (Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Norman Sieroka (Turing Centre, ETH Zürich), Prof Ray Noble (Institute for Women’s Health, UCL), Prof Denis Noble (Cardiovascular Physiology, University of Oxford), Dr Leemon McHenry (Philosophy, California State University), Prof Stefano Mancuso (DISPAA, University of Florence), Prof Kalevi Kull (Semiotics, University of Tartu), Dr Reiko Goto-Collins (Collins and Goto Studio, Glasgow Sculpture Studio), Dr Jeremy Dunham (Philosophy, Durham University), Prof Terrence Deacon (Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley), Dr Tom Bristow (English Studies, Durham University), Prof František Baluska (Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Bonn)

Project duration:
1 year
Funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh
02-Jan-2018 - 01-Jan-2019
EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Medical Devices and Health Technologies | Vivas Mateos, Guillermo
Giardini, Mario Ettore (Principal Investigator) Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Co-investigator) Vivas-Mateos, Guillermo (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 16-Jan-2022

More projects

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Professor Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Tel: 0141 444 8053