Autism is a heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown aetiology that affects 1 in 100-150 individuals. Diagnosis is based on three categories of behavioural criteria: abnormal social interactions, communication deficits and repetitive behaviours. Strong evidence for a genetic basis has prompted the development of mouse models with targeted mutations in candidate genes for autism. As the diagnostic criteria for autism are behavioural, phenotyping these mouse models requires behavioural assays with high relevance to each category of the diagnostic symptoms. Behavioural neuroscientists are generating a comprehensive set of assays for social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviours to test hypotheses about the causes of autism. Robust phenotypes in mouse models hold great promise as translational tools for discovering effective treatments for components of autism spectrum disorders.