I wasn't actually there to witness it myself, but my heart is bursting with pride all the same.
Bud's Nana took him to the beach yesterday. There were two women there with their kids - a boy about Bud's age, and two toddlers. From past experience, we would predict that one of several things would happen: a) Bud would ignore these children entirely; b) Bud would show distress anytime one of the children came anywhere near him ("Oh! He's taking my water!"); or c) Bud would approach the children indirectly, and make echolalic pronouncements like "Tinky Winky jump for fun!" and play near the children, but not with them.
Nana found out quickly that the little boy's name was Brian, and that he was very, very verbal. Brian knew how to swim, face down in the water and with great aplomb. Bud watched him with fascination, then approached him directly and said "I want to do that." And so the friendship began. Brian showed Bud how to blow bubbles and they delighted in sticking their heads all the way under the water. Then Brian wanted to play sharks, and Bud joined in (though he took the time out to run over to Nana to say "It's imagination") before returning to the game.
At one point, Brian-the-swimming-shark was chasing Bud-the-running-boy and Bud looked over his shoulder with more than a little wariness. Brian stopped and said "I know! Let's play Follow Your Friend, But Don't Bump Him." Bud thought that was a great idea, and the game continued.
Nana says she sat at the water's edge, entranced and with an enormous smile on her face for the full hour and a half that the boys played together. She said "I've never seen him look into another child's eyes and laugh - but he was doing it!" By the time they parted, Brian announced "He's my best friend!"
The bad news is that Brian is not from around here - not even from the same state (though Nana told his mom that if she moved here, we'd provide free child care.) But the good news is, success breeds success. My hunch is that this experience has boosted Bud's confidence and has given him a taste of how fun it can be to play with another child. We will be on the lookout for the Brians of the world, and will seek out opportunities to engage!