BACKGROUND: Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities may be at risk of opioid-induced respiratory depression. We aimed to quantify the risks and effectiveness of morphine nurse-controlled analgesia (morphine-NCA) for postoperative pain in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. METHODS: We carried out a retrospective cohort study of 12 904 children who received postoperative i.v. morphine-NCA. Subjects were divided into a neurodevelopmental disability group and a control group. Rates of clinical satisfaction, respiratory depression, and serious adverse events were obtained, and statistical analysis, including multilevel logistic regression using Bayesian inference, was performed. RESULTS: Of 12 904 patients, 2390 (19%) had neurodevelopmental disabilities. There were 88 instances of respiratory depression and 52 serious adverse events; there were no opioid-related deaths. The cumulative incidence of respiratory depression in the neurodevelopmental disability group was 1.09% vs 0.59% in the control group [odds ratio 1.8 (98% chance that the true odds ratio was >1)]. A significant interaction between postoperative morphine dose and neurodevelopmental disabilities was observed, with higher risk of respiratory depression with increasing dose. Satisfaction with morphine-NCA was very high overall, although children with neurodevelopmental disabilities were 1% more likely to have infusions rated as fair or poor (3.3 vs 2.1%, chi2P<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities were 1.8 times more likely to suffer respiratory depression, absolute risk difference 0.5%; opioid-induced respiratory depression in this group may relate to increased sensitivity to dose-relate respiratory effects of morphine. Morphine-NCA as described was an acceptable technique for children with and without neurodevelopmental disabilities.