Haruka Karibu shares her story of how VTubing helped her live with autism

Haruka Karibu is a Canadian VTuber who first appeared in mid-2020 and has been enjoying a solid amount of popularity and success in the independent VTubing sphere. She’s good friends with the VShojo girls in particular, and frequently collaborates with some of the biggest names in western VTubing.

On 16 November, 2021, Haruka hosted a re-debut stream, during which she revealed a new Live2D model and took the opportunity to introduce herself to new audience members — as well as re-introducing herself to her existing cult mem– err, I mean herd. As part of this stream, she featured an animation about her past life — and it’s a story that touched the hearts of everyone who watched it.

Haruka revealed that she has been living with autism since an early age, and it was such a severe case that for quite some time she was literally unable to speak; her mother even went so far as to learn sign language and teach it to Haruka in the hopes that it would help her communicate in a way that she was comfortable with.

Haruka explained that she gradually learned how to express herself to the people around her, but her life was turned upside-down when her family moved house and she was forced to deal with the massive change that entailed. One of the things that many people living with autism do not deal at all well with is change, and this was a major one.

But she endured, and she made an effort with her new classmates, making a point of being herself as much as she could after all the progress she had made. Sadly, it became all too clear that the other children found her behaviour to be noticeably “different” from the norm — and if there’s one thing that children have always been keen to latch onto and bully people for, it’s being different from how you’re “supposed” to be in one way or another. Part of the socialisation you’re supposed to learn throughout childhood is understanding, tolerating and accepting these differences between people, after all.

Haruka Karibu
Haruka during her re-debut, reminding herself that people have no problem accepting her now.

To her dismay, Haruka found herself ostracised completely, and she withdrew into herself. Upon graduating school after what must have been a hellish few years, she retreated into a completely introverted, insular life, spending her days “living” on the Internet and little else — until she discovered VTubers.

VTubers made her laugh and feel things for the first time in many years, and they gave her hope. They allowed her to believe that there might actually be some hope for her after all — that this modern age could provide her with a means of expressing herself where she would feel safe and comfortable.

She was initially skeptical as to how the public might respond to VTubers, since although many VTubers are “playing a role” to a certain extent, the “barrier” that the VTubing avatar puts up between the performer and their audience makes many VTubers feel quite safe and secure. And, as a result of this, many VTubers end up sharing honest, frank and open stories about themselves and their life experiences — perhaps more than they should at times.

To Haruka’s surprise, though, she found that the VTuber audience was, in the vast majority of cases, immensely in favour of this degree of honesty and relatability, with many VTubers cultivating a mutually supportive relationship with their fans that was quite unlike anything seen with other online entertainers. She started to feel like this might be a good means of expressing herself — so she took a chance on it. And she’s never looked back.

Haruka Karibu
Haruka during her re-debut stream.

Speaking as someone living with a condition on the autistic spectrum — Asperger’s in my case — Haruka’s story is immensely inspiring, and certainly highly relatable. I wasn’t diagnosed until quite late in life — just a few years back, rather than while I was at school — but in retrospect the signs were always there.

I never got to a point where I literally couldn’t speak, but there were (and still are) certainly instances where I found it enormously difficult to communicate — and I vividly remember arriving at secondary school on the first day, turning to my best friend from primary school and saying in a mad panic “I can’t remember how to make friends”. He didn’t take me seriously at the time, because on the surface that seems like a ridiculous thing to say — but honestly, it’s still something I struggle with today.

Over time, much like Haruka did, I found a means of expressing myself — in my case, through writing and, in more recent years, through making videos. While it has been — and often still is — a struggle to live with my condition, it absolutely is something you can learn to build your life around, and finding a means of expressing yourself that you’re comfortable with is an absolutely crucial part of that.

Haruka’s story was saddening and, at times, distressingly relatable, but also comforting. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in some of the experiences I had in childhood — even though I didn’t know what to attribute them to or how to explain them at the time. And, more importantly, it was comforting to see someone who had very much found their place in the world through a means that brought them a greater sense of safety, security and genuine friendship with others than they had probably ever thought possible a few years back.

Many of us living in the challenging world of 2021 are struggling — and it’s easy to get all self-deprecating about it and joke about how miserable you are while you really, genuinely are withering up inside from the sadness. One thing Haruka’s story should make clear is that there’s always a way to make life better for yourself, even under the most difficult of circumstances. You just need to find that solution — even if it means looking in places you might not initially expect.

Haruka Karibu streams on Twitch, and also has YouTube channels for edited highlights and VODs. You can find her on Twitter here.

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