Many approaches to word learning argue for the importance of joint attention and other social-pragmatic abilities. This study explored word learning in children with autism (CWA), by examining it in ostensive and non-ostensive contexts, tested through both comprehension and elicited production. Novel nouns were taught to 17 CWA and 13 children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) using an adapted version of Tomasello and Barton’s (Developmental Psychology, 30: 639–650, 1994) search paradigm. In elicited production for words learnt within an ostensive context, CWA performed at a significantly higher level than MLD children. This is contrary to prior findings and suggests that word learning abilities in CWA have been underestimated.