This study documents the neurodevelopmental outcome at 3 years of 52 of 55 extremely low birthweight (ELBW) survivors (survival rate 49%) born in a tertiary maternity centre from July 1985 through December 1988, and examines more closely the developmental profile of the neurologically normal survivors. At 3 years, 6 (12%) children had severe neurodevelopmental impairment (severe cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness or a General Quotient (GQ) < 70 on the Griffiths Scales), 11 (21%) had mild to moderate impairment and 35 (67%) had no neurosensory impairment and normal development (GQ > or = 85). Significant risk factors for severe impairment were stage 3 or 4 retinopathy of prematurity (odds ratio [OR] 21.5), treatment with postnatal steroids (OR 21), grade III or IV intraventricular haemorrhage (OR 11) and supplemental oxygen at 'term' (OR 6.4). The developmental profile of the 35 neurologically normal children revealed a significant weakness in eye and hand coordination skills and a relative strength in hearing and speech skills. Early recognition of this developmental profile may allow implementation of more appropriate preschool programmes for ELBW children.