Autistic children were compared with retarded and normal control groups in a verbal comprehension task. Subjects were asked to select from four pictures the one that illustrated a two-word intransitive or three-word transitive phrase which was described verbally. Distractor pictures differed from the target picture by one, two, or all three features. Autistic children were poorer in performance than the control groups; however, the hierarchy of difficulty of discrimination was common to all three groups, with transitive phrases more difficult than intransitive phrases. Word type did not affect comprehension for the autistic children, although control children evidenced most difficulty with the verb or middle word. Results are interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that a severe and global language disorder is characteristic of autism.