This paper reports a study of the play of relatively able autistic children and that of learning-impaired and young normal controls. Play was assessed in three conditions: spontaneous, instructed and elicited. Two types of material were used: conventional toys and junk objects. In the spontaneous condition autistic children produced significantly less functional (reality) play than controls. Very little symbolic play was produced by any children in this condition. By contrast, in the elicited play condition the autistic children produced as much functional play and as much symbolic play as controls. Other measures of play quality showed the autistic children's play to be unimpaired relative to controls with either type of material in any of the three conditions. From these findings it is argued that autistic children's lack of spontaneous creative play relative to controls is associated with conative abnormalities, rather than with a defective symbol system.