Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Prof, Professor

  • United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

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Personal profile

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 is an affiliate member of 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.

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.  

Teaching Interests

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).


Academic / Professional qualifications

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)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education


  • perception and action
  • development
  • affects and emotions
  • intersubjectivity
  • therapy
  • infant mental health
  • Motor control
  • intentionality
  • behaviour
  • neurobiology
  • early years
  • pre-verbal
  • community
  • cooperativity
  • meaning-making
  • autism
  • consciousness
  • embodiment


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