Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability that may affect nutritional management of children with autism. This study aimed to compare the nutritional status of children with autism with that of typically developing children (aged 4–6 years) in China. Nutritional status was assessed by means of nutritional data, anthropometric data, biochemical assessment, physical examination for nutrient deficiencies and providing a questionnaire to parents. A total of fifty-three children with autism and fifty-three typically developing children were enrolled in this study. The parents were asked to complete the questionnaire regarding the eating behaviour and gastrointestinal symptoms of their children. They were also asked to provide a 3 d food diary. Children with autism exhibited several abnormalities in terms of eating behaviour and gastrointestinal symptoms. The levels of vitamins A and B6, Zn and Ca intakes were <80 % of the dietary reference intakes in both groups. In addition, the proportions of vitamin C and Ca intake deficiencies in the autism group were significantly higher than those in the control group. Serum Zn level was less than the normal reference range in both the groups. Serum Ca, vitamin A and folate levels in children with autism were significantly lower when compared with children without autism. According to the anthropometric data, the mean BMI, weight-for-height Z-score (ZWH) and BMI for age Z-score (ZBMIA) of children with autism were significantly higher than those of the typically developing children. Thus, nutritional inadequacies were observed in children with autism and typically developing children in China, which were, however, more pronounced among children with autism.