The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) within a large representative population sample: the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Cases of ASD were identified from the clinical notes of children in the ALSPAC with a suspected developmental disorder and from the Pupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC) for England in 2003. Seventy-one cases of ASD diagnosed after a multidisciplinary assessment were identified from health records. There were an additional 15 cases from PLASC data in which ASD was mentioned as a principal difficulty, thus giving a total of 86 children diagnosed by the age of 11 years. Prevalence of ASD per 10 000 population at 11 years was 51.1 for those with a multi-professional diagnosis, and 61.9 if cases from education were included, made up of 21.6 for childhood autism, 10.8 for atypical autism, 16.6 for Asperger syndrome, and 13.0 for unspecified ASD. The male:female ratio was 6.8:1. Median age at diagnosis ranged from 45 months in childhood autism to 116 months in Asperger syndrome. A comorbid developmental disorder was recorded in 33.8% of cases, including learning disability* in 14.7%, epilepsy in 10.3%, and mixed developmental disorder in 4.4%. We conclude that the prevalence of ASD diagnosed at 11 years in a UK representative population-based sample is at least 51.1/10 000.