For children with autism, peace and quiet top Sensitive Santa's wish list

Nathan Beavan is 14 but hasn't had his photo taken with Santa since he was a toddler. That's a lot of empty photo frames on the mantelpiece.

The noise, the lights and the wait have left his mother, Lisa, avoiding the experience with her son, who has moderate to severe autism. Until now.

A new initiative, Sensitive Santa, has been implemented at three shopping centres in NSW, Carlingford Court and Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney and Charlestown Square near Newcastle.

Children with autism and their parents can make an appointment and arrive at the shopping centre before opening hours to avoid the long queues, crowds and noise.

''Some kids are hypersensitive to the noise and light so this is an opportunity for them to be in a more protective environment,'' said Melissa Wilton of Autism Spectrum Australia.

For Mrs Beavan, of Stanhope Gardens, it presented a chance to recover a lost decade.

''It was nice for me to be able to say 'Yes, we can go and see Santa','' she said.

''There's so many things you feel like you can't do because your child has special needs.

''It's something you wouldn't even think about, but having a photo with Santa is a very difficult thing to do.

''[Nathan is] big, he's taller than me, but he behaves like a small child. We arrived right on time and walked straight in and there was no music, there was no loud sound.

''It was nice for him to have that - to be able to be himself and be accepted for himself.''

Carly Xerri, from Rouse Hill Town Centre, said it was a small gesture on the centre's part.

"We wanted to create an event that celebrates the spirit of Christmas and brings a small, but memorable part of the festive season to families with autism," Ms Xerri said.

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