Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) centrally mediates growth, differentiation and survival of neurons, and the synaptic plasticity that underlies learning and memory. Recent meta-analyses have reported significantly lower peripheral BDNF among individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, compared with controls. To evaluate the role of BDNF in autism, and to compare autism to psychotic-affective disorders with regard to BDNF, we conducted a meta-analysis of BDNF levels in autism. Inclusion criteria were met by 15 studies, which included 1242 participants. The meta-analysis estimated a significant summary effect size of 0.33 (95 % CI 0.21–0.45, P < 0.001), suggesting higher BDNF in autism than in controls. The studies showed notable heterogeneity, but no evidence of publication biases. Higher peripheral BDNF in autism is concordant with several neurological and psychological theories on the causes and symptoms of this condition, and it contrasts notably with the lower levels of BDNF found in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.