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.


Making meaning together : embodied narratives in a case of severe autism
Delafield-Butt Jonathan T, Zeedyk M Suzanne, Harder Susanne, Væver Mette S, Caldwell Phoebe
Psychopathology (2020)
Swipe kinematics differ in different aged children with autism spectrum disorders during smart-tablet gameplay
Lu Szu-Ching, Rowe P J, Tachtatzis Christos, Andonovic Ivan, Anzulewicz Anna, Sobota Krzysztof, Delafield-Butt Jonathan
International Society for Autism Research Virtual Annual Meeting (2020)
Screen and virtual reality-based testing of contrast sensitivity
Vivas-Mateos Guillermo, Boswell Sarah, Livingstone Iain AT, Delafield-Butt Jonathan, Giardini Mario E
42nd Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society 42nd Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (2020)
Infant intentions : the role of agency in learning with affectionate companions
Delafield-Butt Jonathan, Trevarthen Colwyn
Encyclopedia of Teacher Education (2020) (2020)
Phase 3 diagnostic evaluation of a smart tablet serious game to identify autism in 760 children 3-5 years old in Sweden and the United Kingdom
Millar Lindsay, McConnachie Alex, Minnis Helen, Wilson Philip, Thompson Lucy, Anzulewicz Anna, Sobota Krzysztof, Rowe Philip, Gillberg Christopher, Delafield-Butt Jonathan
BMJ Open Vol 9 (2019)
The early embodied development of ASD, and its care
Trevarthen Colwyn, Delafield-Butt Jonathan
Autism Spectrum Disorder (2019) (2019)

More publications


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 teh following courses:

Diploma/Masters in Early Years Pedagogy -- The Connected Child (diploma phase module).

Diploma/Masters in Inclusive Education -- Attachment and Nurture (diploma phase module, starting spring 2016).

B.A. Education/Psychology/HaSS -- Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity (second year module, starting spring 2016). 

B.A. Education/Psychology/Hass -- Learners and Learning (second year module).

B.A. Childhood Practice -- Emotional and Social Development (two second year, phase two modules).


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.

Research Collaborators:

  • Prof. Phil Rowe (Biomedical Engineering, University of Strathclyde) on Autism Motor Deficits and Motor Intensive Treatment.
  • Prof. Ivan Andonovic & Dr Christos Tachtatzis (Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde) on Wearable and Machine Learning in Early Assesssment of Autism.
  • Prof. Koichi Negayama (Human Sciences, Waseda University, Tokyo) on Cultural Differences in Embodied Mother-Infant Interaction.  Together with Assoc. Prof. Keiko Momose, PhD student Konomi Ishijima, and Dr. Noriko Kawahara.
  • Prof. Ceclia Laschi and Assoc. Prof. Francesca Cecchi (Biomedical Engineering, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa) on Instrumented Toys for Ecological Motor Analysis of Children with Autism.
  • Harimata Sp. z.o.o. (smart device development) on Early Detection of Autism Using Smart Device Sensors.

Research Team:

Harimata H2020 Diagnostic Trial

We are currently engaged in a diagnostic trial of an iPad assessment for children 3-5 years old for prediction of diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The trial is made in collaboration with Prof. Chris Gillberg at the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Gothenburgh together with Prof. Helen Minnis (University of Glasgow), Prof. Phil Wilson (University of Aberdeen), and Dr. Alex McConnachie (University of Glasgow) as well as with Dr. Lucy Thompson (Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Gothenburg).  Here at Strathclyde we are:

Dr. Lindsay Millar.  Trials Manager and Research Associate in Autism.

Dr. Szu-Ching Lu.  Research Associate in Autism.

Elaine Hutton.  Research Assistant in Autism.

Denise Ritchie.  Administrator in Autism.

Erin Lux.  Trials Data Manager.

In addition, we have a number of PhD student positions starting in Autumn 2018 (please contact me if you are interested) on related projects, as well as our current student cohort:

PhD Students

  • Jillian Adie (Student Excellence Award PhD Studentship, University of Strathclyde, 2012-2015) on Companionship and Co-creating Narratives in Nurture Groups.
  • Omar Alawajee (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia PhD Scholarship, 2015-2018).  Learning social skills through games and social media in children with autism, and children deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Maria Ferrara (Research Excellence Award PhD Studentship, University of Strathclyde, 2014-2017) on Autism Motor Deficit and Motor Treatment.
  • Adam Mitchell (Capita PhD Studentship, 2015-2018).  Smart games and wearable devices for ecological autism assessment.
  • Louise McKeever (Speech and Language Therapy, 2016-2019).  Motor deficits common to speech, language, and movement.  2nd supervisor.

EdD Students

  • Gordon Miles (2018-).  On Lego play-based interventions for children with autism in school.

Masters Students


  • Laura Gilbertson (M.Sc., 2016) on relation between quality of nursery care, government provision of care, and duration spent in nursery on child development.
  • Jacqueline Craig (M.Sc., 2016) on best practice in transitions in nursery care.
  • Julie Hall (M.Sc., 2015) on Nurture Group Efficacy and Long-term Outcomes. 
  • Veronica Chiara Zuccalà (Erasmus, M.Eng. University of Pisa, 2014) on Developing Sensorised Toys for Ecological Movement Analysis of Children with Autism.
  • Leigh Scott (M.Phil., 2014) on Representation of Autism in Contemporary Film and Television.

PhD/Postdoc Recruitment:

Please contact me if you would like to pursue a PhD or postdoctoral research in embodiment and intersubjectivity in early development and learning.

In particular, I am building strength in sensori-motor origins and early motor development of autism spectrum disorder, especially using new smart technologies to playfully measure autism.  We are also looking at movement-based treatments and their efficacy.  

Professional activities

Motor disruption in autism: Implications for social development, and its early identification
Neuroscience and Dance: The science of expression through movement
Moving in Autism
Moving in Autism Research Seminar
International Workshop on the Newborn Infant: A missing stage in developmental psychology
International Workshop on the Newborn Infant: A missing stage in developmental psychology
Invited speaker

More professional activities


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 - 01-Jan-2021
Predictive Power of iPad Gameplay
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator) Rowe, Philip (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2019
Wearable Inertial Sensors for Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Andonovic, Ivan (Principal Investigator) Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Co-investigator) Tachtatzis, Christos (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2021
Autism Motor Deficit: Ecological Measures of Prospective Sensorimotor Timing
Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Academic) Rowe, Philip (Academic)
This project addresses brain stem motor deficit in autism thought to be a primary etiological error responsible for secondary social, emotional and behavioural symptomologies (Delafield-Butt & Gangopadhyay, 2013; Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2013). Autism motor differences first identified by Kanner (1943) are increasingly recognised as a prominent component of its development as well as requiring therapeutic attention in treatment (Donnellan, Hill, & Leary, 2013; Teitelbaum, et al., 1998; Torres & Donnellan, 2013). Motion capture measurements of goal-directed tasks demonstrate a particular, reliable deficit in action planning and execution, especially the timing of these in a range of motor tasks, e.g. posture (Schmitz, et al., 2003), gait (Rinehart et al., 2006), and goal-directed arm movement (Dowd, et al., 2012; Nazarali, Glazebrook, & Elliott, 2009). Further, perceptual awareness of others’ intentions and affects conveyed in body movement is also disrupted (Cattaneo et al., 2007; Rochat et al., 2013). Altogether, we hypothesise these recent data demonstrate a primary deficit in ASD in a principal form of prospective motor agency, the sensorimotor capacity to efficiently enact desired intentions, regularly thwarting success, creating distress and isolation, and consequent social and emotional compensations (Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2013).

This project will measure the development of prospective timing and sensorimotor integration in children with ASD (Group 1) and in typically developing children (Group 2) between 3 and 6 years old. The work will focus on development of ecological motor paradigms for bespoke, sensorised toys developed in collaboration with Prof. Cecelia Laschi and Assoc. Prof. Francesca Cecchi at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, University of Pisa, and currently tested in field trials by Erasmus student Veronica Chiara Zuccalà. These devices together with new analyses have yielded very successful measurements of movement differences. They enable high-precision motion capture in the home or clinic, and, once firmly established, will provide cost-effective, accurate motor measurement of children’s movement without the need for laboratory-based optical tracking systems, enabling medical device development.

The first phase of research (t=0 to 12 months) will establish motor paradigms, data processing, and analyses algorithms with pilot trials. The second phase of primary research data acquisition (t=12 to 24 months) will apply the established protocol under a cross-sectional design to children to Group 1 & 2 children at three developmental stages (3, 4.5 and 6 years of age). We aim for large cohorts upward of n=50. Ecological sensors employed in the clinic or in the classroom afford rapid data collection of large cohorts of children in a short space of time, and this advantage we will exploit, giving significant advantage within autism research. Confounding IQ and adaptive behaviour (VABS) will be assessed. The third and final phase will constitute data analysis and write-up (t=24 to 36 months).

This will constitute the core data around which the student is free to develop second primary research strand to test prospective timing, and the Human Movement and Biomechanics Laboratory, equipped with state-of-the-art, gold-standard motion capture equipment and virtual immersion systems will be employed for paradigm testing and validation of ecological sensors.
01-Jan-2016 - 01-Jan-2017

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