Meet The Disruptors: Francesca Salazar & Chelsea Sanders Of Limitless Applied Behavior Analysis On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readDec 23, 2023

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Invest in marketing. The vast majority of people will not know a business is operating poorly unless they’re told so. A lot of the families we provide resources to have NO IDEA what quality ABA looks like. Many believe that all clinics are in poor condition because that is what they’ve seen repeatedly. Marketing gives you a chance to shake things up, raise awareness, and encourage people to ask questions. We’ve had the opportunity to provide pediatricians with our pamphlet and advertise via school events. This type of marketing has allowed us to help several families by answering questions and providing resources.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Francesca Salazar & Chelsea Sanders.

Francesca’s passion for helping others led her to pursue a BA in Psychology from The University of Michigan and a M. Ed in Curriculum & Instruction (ABA) from Arizona State University; both of which she utilized to catapult her into the world of ABA. Francesca has 9 years of experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, working as a Registered Behavior Technician that provided daily 1:1 therapy, and as a student analyst that assisted in conducting assessments, developing individualized plans of care, training staff, and monitoring client progress. Francesca combines professionalism, creativity, and a commitment to helping others to fuel transformative change within her field.

Chelsea brings over 5 years of Operations Management in the field of ABA to the table; during this time she has refined team retention strategies, optimized various processes, and driven growth. Chelsea’s experiences in ABA have provided her with a deep understanding of the industry, including the ways in which funds can be mismanaged and the way money-hungry leaders can damage the quality of care delivered to clients. Chelsea is passionate about disrupting the mediocre management in the ABA world and utilizing her expertise to cultivate change.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Both Chelsea and I started in different fields. Chelsea came from a long career at Verizon and I came from case management. Neither of us were fulfilled in those roles because we always had a strong desire to help others. Ironically, we both had a friend who told us about Applied Behavior Analysis and recommended that we give it a try. Chelsea decided to enter the field here in Georgia in 2017 and I entered the field in 2010 in California. As soon as we started our ABA journey, we knew that it was where we belonged. We were able to make meaningful changes to the lives of children, and their families, which was rewarding. In those early years, it truly did not feel like work. Neither of us have looked back since!

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At this time, ABA is an untapped, billion-dollar industry. Several people are launching clinics simply because they have deep pockets; what they lack is the general understanding of how important ABA is and the genuine compassion that must accompany the creation of such a business. Chelsea and I have worked for various companies and we’ve also interviewed at multiple clinics around the state of Georgia; while some are doing it right, too many aren’t. Staff members are severely undertrained, underpaid, and burnt out- all of these factors contribute to high turnover rates. This is important to acknowledge because it directly impacts the quality of care that children with ASD receive. Additionally, staff is being asked to take on more clients than reasonable or feasible, which has aided in cookie-cutter intervention plans and essentially, this idea of fast-food therapy.

Chelsea and I are committed to dismantling this version of ABA and restoring faith in the field of ABA by providing quality care to our clients. We’re launching an intensive, 3-week, paid training for all of our therapists. We’ve built in retention plans, including benefit plans and child-care options, to ensure our staff feels supported and are willing to put their best foot forward each day. We’re developing a state-of-the-art facility that takes into consideration parent feedback and clinical recommendations versus renting a random building and stuffing it with children. Additionally, we’ve begun rebuilding relationships with pediatricians and diagnosticians to ensure they can distinguish between quality providers and the others. Perhaps the most disruptive thing we’re doing is providing resources, education, and support groups to those with ASD and/or their caregivers for FREE. We’re coaching parents on how to choose the appropriate place for their child- we don’t care if that is with us or somewhere else, so long as they have a roadmap and some assistance on advocating for their child.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

That’s a tough one. There were definitely a lot of tears along the way, but laughs were somewhat hard to come by! I think the funniest mistake we made was just being unrealistic. We thought that life would slow down for us so that our projected timeline would be perfect. Looking back, that’s pure comedy! So many twists and turns unraveled from the inception of our idea to even 6 months of progress, nonetheless it was an important lesson for us. We learned about flexibility and patience to ensure things are done the right way. We learned to show ourselves grace and accept that we’re going to make mistakes- we’re human after all. We learned to embrace the journey- the good, the bad, and the ugly. We lost friends along the way, but we also gained some. Overall, we learned that humility is a great space to grow from.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

A little bit of help may be an understatement! We truly knew nothing about launching a business; we simply had an idea, a lot of passion, and a burning desire for change.

To say that we’ve been blessed with our mentors would be an absolute understatement. Mentors are a crucial contributor to your success, as they will guide you with unbiased opinions and have you thinking out of the box for every problem you encounter, or an idea you are developing. They have insight as to what they would have done differently when they started and can offer you somewhat of a hack in areas of business development. I think a common misconception is that your mentor should be within your field; however, our mentors didn’t know much about ABA when we started. Instead, the foundation of their businesses and their passion for helping others aligned with our values. Our mentors are three incredibly successful, kind, intelligent men. Two of them own and operate a healthcare business and the other owns and operates a hospitality business.

From the first day that we met, they cautioned us: business can end friendships. Naturally, we didn’t think this would affect us, but it did. When we first began dreaming up Limitless, there were three of us. At one point, our friend wanted to pull out and we begged her not to. This is where the mentors really provided us with insight and didn’t push us to make one decision or another. One walked us through various exercises, having us put ourselves in her shoes; another shared personal accounts of how he encountered a similar situation, how he went against his better judgment, and how he regretted that choice. The other offered support, guidance, and reassurance. It was a monumental moment for us and having their support shaped our ability to think logically and make an educated decision before moving forward. It also restored the faith we had within ourselves.

Mentors don’t force you into decisions, they guide you.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Being disruptive is definitely paradoxical. When we are young, we’re taught that being disruptive is a “no-no”; it can actually be perceived as being rude or disrespectful. On the contrary, as we grow up, we are applauded for disruption when it challenges societal norms or constructs. The US is in an interesting, progressive wave where (we think) disruption is almost reveled in some areas. Disruption in the field of ABA, particularly in Georgia, can definitely be a positive thing.

Our field is scientific, evidence-based, and data driven, which means it is constantly evolving. We have to be open to new findings and be willing to unlearn previous ideas/concepts within our field. While we have remained open to new ideas and change, we have also been disruptive when the changes weren’t made with our client’s and/or staff’s best interests at the forefront. As a leader, it is imperative that we speak up and be a voice for our team. We’ve stood firmly against CEOs and directors who made rash decisions that negatively impacted our clients and staff; we held them accountable and we have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Disrupting an industry is not so positive when it stems from personal experiences (isolated incidents), greedy desires, and/or selfish motives. We’ve watched new waves of people come into ABA clinics and promise change; some tactics, by definition, were disruptive- and not in a positive way. They were disruptive because they were disrespectful and demeaning to the other staff members involved. Few of the changes made immediately impacted the clients, their families, and the overall progress/growth within the clinic. Promotions and monetary gains were self-serving, while other monetary cuts only hindered client progress and deflated staff morale. Disruption that is rooted in self-serving motives will not be positive for any industry, including ABA.

Can you please share 5 ideas one needs to shake up their industry?

1 . Know your worth. A lot of industries will try to downplay your talents and experiences because they trust you don’t know your worth; as a result, they hope to obtain your expertise at a low rate and exploit your talents. Knowing your worth allows you to challenge the idea that you need “x business” more than they need you. Rest assured that if they pass you up, they’ll spend MORE money on less qualified individuals, and eventually, turn over of that role. Stripping companies of this superiority complex and humbling them will leave them with less skilled employees, forcing them to revamp training and work harder at retaining staff/clients. Chelsea and I have both left several clinics where we felt dismissed.

2. Hold your employers accountable. I worked in a clinic that didn’t have hand soap for over 2 weeks! It was completely unsanitary, but nobody said anything. I worked at another company that had holes in the wall, carpet unraveling, and stained walls. Staff was afraid to complain about the conditions, so again, employers got away with unsafe conditions in the workplace. In the field of ABA, especially in the state of Georgia, employers need you. The clients you service need you. Be disruptive and hold your employers accountable. At a previous clinic, management made a rash decision to cut pay for several staff members. Although my position and pay would have been unaffected, I felt the need to advocate for my team. I sent a “reply all” email stressing our concern for the hasty change and listing out several questions that should have been answered prior to such a change. I was messaged privately and brought into the office for a “talk”. I resigned that same week.

3. Invest in marketing. The vast majority of people will not know a business is operating poorly unless they’re told so. A lot of the families we provide resources to have NO IDEA what quality ABA looks like. Many believe that all clinics are in poor condition because that is what they’ve seen repeatedly. Marketing gives you a chance to shake things up, raise awareness, and encourage people to ask questions. We’ve had the opportunity to provide pediatricians with our pamphlet and advertise via school events. This type of marketing has allowed us to help several families by answering questions and providing resources.

4. Take a stance and report inappropriate behavior. Several professions are governed by a board, especially in healthcare. If you’re hitting a brick wall, your confident harm is being done to clients and their families, and you’ve exhausted the chain of command- it may be time to take it to the next level. Fortunately, Chelsea and I haven’t had to report anyone to the board that governs ABA professionals. We’ve been able to bring our concerns to each professional and discuss/resolve those affairs privately.

5. Be authentic. Authenticity cannot be faked. When you speak about something that you believe in, your passion will be displayed and it will help you create a genuine connection with others. Every time Chelsea and I present Limitless, we have a newfound sense of pride. We don’t rehearse each line, we don’t use a pre-written script, we simply speak from our hearts. If someone asks a question that we do not know the answer to, we acknowledge that, and we commit ourselves to obtaining that information. Prospective clients, investors, and donors appreciate transparency. Please do not confuse this with being ill-prepared though!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re just getting started! We have every intention of advocating for, and providing resources to, families in limbo. We’re going to help families hold their providers accountable for a lack of progress and report misconduct following the appropriate chains. We will always encourage existing companies to do the right thing and honor their clients’ dignity- we’re open to helping them if they’d like.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action has resonated with us deeply. This was recommended to us by our mentors because Simon encouraged entrepreneurs to start with their “why” and our initial presentation reminded them of this TED Talk. We watch it at least once a week, perhaps more when we’re overcome by obstacles and lose steam. It realigns our thinking processes and forces us to refocus on our dreams, goals, and purpose.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” — Dalai Lama

Although we grew up in different parts of the US (Michigan and Alabama), we both had a strong pull to help people. When we couldn’t help people directly, we both found ourselves advocating for them. These traits stuck with us and ultimately led us to bond with one another.

It’s incredibly easy to help others, but it’s even easier to just avoid hurting them. Behavior, words, and lack of action have merit- they can cause pain to others regardless of our intentions. For this reason, we take pride in being intentional with what we say and do across business and life. We always aim for honest, respectful, and clear communication, even if that burns some bridges along the way.

If you decide to cause a disruption, it should never be at the expense of others. Weigh the pros and cons of your plan and determine whether or not you have identified the best methods to pursue change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If we could inspire a movement, it would definitely surround education and inclusivity. According to the CDC, we know that 1 in 36 children are being diagnosed with Autism (2023). Further, 1 in 6 children in the US have developmental delays. As ABA professionals, we spend a lot of time trying to teach children with ASD how to interact with others; what if we flipped the script? What if we taught neurotypical children how to interact with those affected by ASD? Imagine being a parent or caregiver to someone with ASD and having that weight lifted off of your shoulders!

How can our readers follow you online?

We’ve launched a few social media pages including:

Instagram: LimitlessABAga

LinkedIn: Limitless ABA

Yelp!: Limitless ABA

Website: www.LimitlessABAga.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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