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

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 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).


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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.

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

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
IAA BtG: A new window into autism spectrum disorder from space research
Clark, Ruaridh (Principal Investigator) Macdonald, Malcolm (Co-investigator) Lu, Szu-Ching (Co-investigator) Delafield-Butt, Jonathan (Principal Investigator) Macdonald, Malcolm (Co-investigator)
Impact Accelerator Account: Bridging the Gaps project.

Network and dynamical systems analysis, developed by Clark and Macdonald within EPSRC-funded research, has enabled advances in autonomous drone control, brain neuroimaging analysis, dynamical system monitoring, and most recently the design of space systems. This research provides an analytical framework for evaluating swipe patterns from a recently completed, and world leading, autism diagnostic clinical trial of 760 pre-school children.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting at least 700,000 individuals in the UK with an aggregate annual healthcare and support cost of at least £28 billion. Early identification, proceeded by therapeutic intervention, can produce significant, lifelong health and economic benefit. An ASD diagnosis currently requires a trained clinician, but there is a long and growing waiting list for such assessments. To meet demand, and create more accessible means of assessment, bespoke touchscreen games have been developed for early autism detection and recently trialled for children aged 3–6 years.

Touchscreen games provide a scalable alternative for detecting autism, with machine learning analysis able to detect autism with up to 93% accuracy from children’s motor patterns. Machine learning detects differences in user swipe interactions but cannot reveal the nature of these discrepancies, in particular how swipe patterns differ. By employing network analysis, we can identify – for the first time – the specific pattern signatures of autistic users, which will improve the detection of ASD and the accuracy in differentiating ASD from other neurodevelopmental disorders. We will explore how the development of children with neurodevelopmental disorders differs from their typically developed counterparts. Crucial insights that will form the basis of effective diagnosis, supporting and tailoring therapeutic interventions to address the massive economic impact of mis- or late diagnosis.
01-Jan-2022 - 01-Jan-2022
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

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Professor Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Tel: 0141 444 8053