The autistic impairments in emotional and social competence, imagination and generating ideas predict qualitative differences in expressive drawings by children with autism beyond that accounted by any general learning difficulties. In a sample of 60 5–19-year-olds, happy and sad drawings were requested from 15 participants with non-savant autism and compared with those drawn by three control groups matched on either degree of learning difficulty (MLD), mental age (MA) or chronological age (CA). All drawings were rated by two artists on a 7-point quality of expression scale. Contrary to our predictions, the drawings from the autistic group were rated similar to those of the MA and MLD groups. Analysis of the people and social content of the drawings revealed that although children with autism did not draw fewer people, they did draw more immature forms than mental age controls. Furthermore, there was tentative evidence that fewer social scenes were produced by the autism sample. We conclude that the overall merit of expressive drawing in autism is commensurate with their general learning difficulties, but the social/emotional impairment in autism affects their drawings of people and social scenes.