The differences between parents' assessments of their child's handicap and professionals' assessment of disabilities were studied in 486 Nordic children with myelomeningocele aged 4-18 years. Although disability and handicap are conceptually different, agreement between the parents' assessments of the handicap and the degree of disability according to Lorber's classification was found in 51% of cases. The parents' assessments showed close agreement with overall disability according to Lagergren's method in 45% of cases. The factors most strongly associated with parental assessment of the handicap were the child's motor disability, intellectual functioning, faecal and urinary incontinence and the parents' inclination to feel inadequate with respect to the child's needs. Data from professional assessment of disabilities alone are of limited value in understanding the impact of disabilities on the daily life of a child.