Humour and laughter have often been portrayed as fundamentally cultural and social phenomena. They can be used to tell us about children's ability to engage socially and to understand others, but have rarely been explored for this purpose. The present paper summarises the results of a study of simple forms of humour in children with Down syndrome and with autism, two groups which are reported to differ in their sociality and _ interpersonal understanding. Sixteen children with Down syndrome and 19 children with autism, matched on non-verbal mental age, participated in a cross-sectional study. Parental reports and video-tapes of naturalistic interaction between parents and children were analysed to show that although there were no overall differences in the presence or frequency of child or parent laughter between the two groups, there were differences in what sorts of events were more likely to prompt child laughter, the extent to which child laughter was shared, and how the children responded to others' laughter. The children with Down syndrome were more likely than the children with autism to laugh at funny faces and socially inappropriate acts and less likely to laugh in strange or inexplicable situations, and more likely to laugh at shared events. They also responded to others' laughter with attention or smiles more, and tried to re-elicit it through acts of clowning. Children with Down syndrome are thus active participants in humour and laughter, sharing it at both an emotional and a cultural level.