Autism is a severe neurobehavioral syndrome, arising largely as an inherited disorder, which can arise from several diseases. Despite recent advances in identifying some genes that can cause autism, its underlying neurological mechanisms are uncertain. Autism is best conceptualized by considering the neural systems that may be defective in autistic individuals. Recent advances in understanding neural systems that process sensory information, various types of memories and social and emotional behaviors are reviewed and compared with known abnormalities in autism. Then, specific genetic abnormalities that are linked with autism are examined. Synthesis of this information leads to a model that postulates that some forms of autism are caused by an increased ratio of excitation/inhibition in sensory, mnemonic, social and emotional systems. The model further postulates that the increased ratio of excitation/inhibition can be caused by combinatorial effects of genetic and environmental variables that impinge upon a given neural system. Furthermore, the model suggests potential therapeutic interventions.