Abstract thinking is generally highly correlated with problem-solving ability which is predictive of better adaptive functioning. Measures of conceptual reasoning, an ecologically-valid laboratory measure of problem-solving, and a report measure of adaptive functioning in the natural environment, were administered to children and adults with and without autism. The individuals with autism had weaker conceptual reasoning ability than individuals with typical development of similar age and cognitive ability. For the autism group, their flexible thinking scores were significantly correlated with laboratory measures of strategy formation and rule shifting and with reported overall adaptive behavior but not socialization scores. Therefore, in autism, flexibility of thought is potentially more important for adaptive functioning in the natural environment than conceptual reasoning or problem-solving.