The objective of this study was to determine which causes of death are more frequent in persons with autism, and by how much, compared with the general population. Subjects were 13,111 ambulatory Californians with autism, followed between 1983 and 1997. The units of study were person-years, each linked to the subject's age, sex, and cause of death (if any) for the specific year. Observed numbers of cause-specific deaths were compared with numbers expected according to general population mortality rates. Standardized mortality rates (SMRs) were computed for each mental retardation level. Elevated death rates were observed for several causes, including seizures and accidents such as suffocation and drowning; elevated mortality due to respiratory disease was observed among persons with severe mental retardation. Overall, excess mortality was especially marked for persons with severe mental retardation, but life expectancy is reduced even for persons who are fully ambulatory and who have only mild mental retardation.