Autism is a brain disorder characterized by abnormalities in how a person relates and communicates to others. Both post-mortem and neuroimaging studies indicate the presence of increased brain volume and, in some cases, an altered gray/white matter ratio. Contrary to established gross findings there is no recognized microscopic pathology to autism. Early studies provided multiple leads none of which have been validated. Clinicopathological associations have been difficult to sustain when considering possible variables such as use of medications, seizures, mental retardation and agonal/pre-agonal conditions. Research findings suggest widespread cortical abnormalities, lack of a vascular component and an intact blood–brain barrier. Many of the previously mentioned findings can be explained in terms of a mini-columnopathy. The significance of future controlled studies should be judged based on their explanatory powers; that is, how well do they relate to brain growth abnormalities and/or provide useful clinicopathological correlates.