Most recent reviews tend to estimate a prevalence of 1–2 per 1,000 for autism and close to 6 per 1,000 for ASD; because of inadequate data, these numbers may underestimate ASD's true prevalence. PDD-NOS's prevalence has been estimated at 3.7 per 1,000, Asperger syndrome at roughly 0.6 per 1,000, and childhood disintegrative disorder at 0.02 per 1,000. The number of reported cases of autism increased dramatically in the 1990s and early 2000s. This increase is largely attributable to changes in diagnostic practices, referral patterns, availability of services, age at diagnosis, and public awareness, though unidentified environmental risk factors cannot be ruled out. The available evidence does not rule out the possibility that autism's true prevalence has increased; a real increase would suggest directing more attention and funding toward changing environmental factors instead of continuing to focus on genetics.

Boys are at higher risk for ASD than girls. The sex ratio averages 4.3:1 and is greatly modified by cognitive impairment: it may be close to 2:1 with mental retardation and more than 5.5:1 without. Although the evidence does not implicate any single pregnancy-related risk factor as a cause of autism, the risk of autism is associated with advanced age in either parent, and with diabetes, bleeding, and use of psychiatric drugs in the mother during pregnancy. The risk is greater with older fathers than with older mothers; two potential explanations are the known increase in mutation burden in older sperm, and the hypothesis that men marry later if they carry genetic liability and show some signs of autism. Most professionals believe that race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background do not affect the occurrence of autism.

Several other conditions are common in children with autism. They include:

  • Genetic disorders. About 10–15% of autism cases have an identifiable Mendelian (single-gene) condition, chromosome abnormality, or other genetic syndrome, and ASD is associated with several genetic disorders.

  • Mental retardation. The fraction of autistic individuals who also meet criteria for mental retardation has been reported as anywhere from 25% to 70%, a wide variation illustrating the difficulty of assessing autistic intelligence. For ASD other than autism, the association with mental retardation is much weaker.

  • Anxiety disorders are common among children with ASD; there are no firm data, but studies have reported prevalences ranging from 11% to 84%. Many anxiety disorders have symptoms that are better explained by ASD itself, or are hard to distinguish from ASD's symptoms.

  • Epilepsy, with variations in risk of epilepsy due to age, cognitive level, and type of language disorder.

  • Several metabolic defects, such as phenylketonuria, are associated with autistic symptoms.

  • Minor physical anomalies are significantly increased in the autistic population.

  • Preempted diagnoses. Although the DSM-IV rules out concurrent diagnosis of many other conditions along with autism, the full criteria for ADHDTourette syndrome, and other of these conditions are often present and these comorbid diagnoses are increasingly accepted.

  • Sleep problems affect about two-thirds of individuals with ASD at some point in childhood. These most commonly include symptoms of insomnia such as difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Sleep problems are associated with difficult behaviors and family stress, and are often a focus of clinical attention over and above the primary ASD diagnosis.