Children with autism respond atypically to eye-gaze cues, arguably because they fail to understand that eye-gaze conveys mentalistic information. Three experiments investigated whether a difficulty in inferring desire from eye-gaze in autism reflects a failure to understand the mentalistic significance of eye-gaze, an inhibitory deficit or a deficit of cue inference. While there was an inhibitory component to the tasks, children with autism were no more affected by this than controls. In addition, individuals’ impairment in inferring desire was not limited to social cues, but was also observed when desire was cued by more general cues. Consequently, children with autism may have a general deficit in using arbitrary cues to make inferences, which impacts particularly on their social development.